Baltimore County News
Executive also to testify in support of statewide changes to sexual assault statutes
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz released the results of an independent review of the County’s police department policies and procedures in responding to sexual assault allegations.
On October 19, 2016, the County Executive announced that Lisae Jordan, Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) and former Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Howe had agreed to review all unfounded rape cases from 2013, 2014, and 2015. Over the past four months, they reviewed 124 cases. As the report indicates,” the County did not oversee any aspect of the review, nor were the reviewers compensated by the County.”
“While I am gratified that the report stated that, ‘even in cases where one reviewer would not have classified a case as unfounded, they agreed that prosecution was not viable,’ there is always room for continual improvement in every organization,” said Kamenetz.
During his press conference on October 19, County Executive Kamenetz directed an immediate change to the County’s sexual assault investigatory policy. He announced, effective immediately, that every individual reporting a 2nd degree sexual assault charge, as well as the suspect, will be personally interviewed by a detective in the sex crimes unit. That action is one of the six recommendations in today’s report. “I am pleased that we were able to make this change even before the review began, and I embrace each of the six recommendations below,” concluded the County Executive.
The following recommendations are made on the basis of the review:
1. The new policy requiring sex crimes detectives to interview both victims and suspects in sexual assault cases should be continued. This policy ensures that sexual assault cases are consistently handled by detectives with specialized training. This policy should apply to all cases involving investigations into violations of Criminal Law, Subtitle 3, Sexual Crimes, sexual abuse crimes in subtitle 6, and in cases involving investigations of sex trafficking.  As part of this policy, cases involving a complaint of sexual assault should not be labeled "unfounded" unless a sex crimes detective has reviewed the case after investigation.
Administration Response: On October 19, 2016, County Executive Kamenetz directed the Baltimore County Police Department Special Victims Team (SVT) to immediately begin interviewing all victims and suspects involved in all Subtitle 3, Sexual Crimes, sexual abuse crimes in subtitle 6, and in cases involving investigations of sex trafficking with the exception of misdemeanors based upon age.
Response of the State’s Attorney’s Office: Agree that follow up interviews with specially trained sex offense detectives only enhance potential prosecution and provide the victims of sexual assault the services and attention they deserve.
2. Maryland’s sexual assault statutes should be clarified and modernized to make it clear that rape victims are not required to physically resist sexual assault. Deficiencies in Maryland’s statutes that require “force or threat of force” are a major problem that contribute to the high unfounded rate in Baltimore County.
Administration Response: The Administration supports changing Maryland’s sexual assault statute to eliminate the requirement for “physical force or threat of force.” County Executive Kamenetz will be testifying in support of Vice Chair Dumais’ House Bill 429.
Response of the State’s Attorney’s Office: Agree the County Executive and State’s Attorney will be supporting Senate Bill 217 that clarifies the law on physical resistance. In addition, both will be supporting Senate Bill 349 that mandates the retention of DNA rape kits.
3. The Baltimore County Police Department should implement a system of tracking cases received from residential facilities, such as assisted living facilities, nursing homes, residential treatment centers, etc., to track trends and identify possible serial cases. In addition, staff at these facilities should be trained on how to identify and respond to sexual assault cases within their facilities.
Administration Response: The Special Victims Team will begin tracking cases involving residential facilities. We agree that the staff at such facilities should receive training related to sexual assault, and that it should be the responsibility of the licensing entity to ensure that the standard is met.
4. The Baltimore County Police Department should receive intensive training in the following areas:
- Responding to individuals with mental illness and cognitive disabilities;
- Trauma-informed interviewing;
- Cases involving intoxication.
Administration Response: The Administration agrees that all members of the Department should receive the recommended training, including the patrol officers who are the first responders to incidents of sexual assault. Baltimore County will also continue to work with MCASA to evaluate officer training in this area. This training will go hand in hand with the County’s recent work in collaboration with the Council of State Governments to improve its responses to individuals suffering behavioral health issues.
5. Communication between sex crimes detectives and the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office should be increased and documented. Communication with prosecutors is particularly important in cases involving interpretations of the law on force and in cases involving “mentally incapacitated individuals” under Criminal Law §3-301(c).
Administration Response: The Baltimore County Police Department has already formalized and developed a clear documentation system for enhanced communication between its Special Victims Team (SVT) and the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Response of the State’s Attorney’s Office: Agree the State’s Attorney’s Office will make all final legal decisions in all sexual assault cases and will document and retain those decisions. This process has already been implemented.
6. The County’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) should be strengthened and law enforcement should be required to attend. Sexual Assault Response Teams provide a forum to discuss policies and procedures to ensure that sexual assault survivors receive trauma-informed responses.
Administration Response: The Baltimore County Police Department has been a voluntary participant in every SART meeting for more than 12 years. This Administration will continue to ensure that the Police Department remains an active participant in the SART for the foreseeable future. The Baltimore County Police Department and County administration are also committed to working with local sexual assault programs and other SART partners.
Response of the State’s Attorney’s Office: The Baltimore County Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office have been active members of SART and are committed to remaining active going forward. The State’s Attorney’s Office is also committed to working with local sexual assault programs and other SART partners.
 We note that cases involving sexual abuse of children are currently appropriately assigned to detectives with specialized training in these cases.
Program Begins July 6
The Baltimore County Police Department's body-worn camera program is set to begin Wednesday, July 6. The first 10 cameras will be deployed that day to one officer in each of the county's 10 precincts. After that, BCoPD will train 10 officers a week for 15 weeks, until 150 cameras are deployed. These 150 cameras will be distributed throughout the 10 precincts and in other units where the Chief of Police has deemed camera use appropriate. This comprises the first phase of BCoPD's body camera initiative.
The second and final phase of the program, involving 1,285 cameras, is scheduled to begin in July 2017. The program will be fully phased in by December 2018. When complete, 1,435 of the county's 1,900 police officers will wear cameras.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Chief Jim Johnson, along with Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, conducted a press briefing this afternoon at the Public Safety Building in Towson providing details about how the cameras will be used, how footage will be managed, limitations of BWCs and the anticipated benefits.
"We're investing in this program for one reason," Kamenetz said. "We believe it will improve public safety by enhancing transparency, by reducing complaints against officers, by improving behavior of all parties involved in police activity and by making prosecutions more effective and efficient."
Regarding prosecutions, Shellenberger said footage from citizen-operated and surveillance cameras already plays an important role in prosecutions; BWC footage – which shows police activity from the officer's perspective – promises to be another valuable prosecutorial tool.
At today's briefing, Chief Johnson highlighted the most important components of the body camera Use Policy.
"My biggest concern was the potential for the cameras to strip officers of their autonomy," Johnson said, turning officers into robotic enforcers of the law. "This policy is specifically designed to preserve the autonomy and discretion of the police officer."
Key points in the Use Policy:
- Officers assigned body cameras will activate them as soon as possible unless it is unsafe, impractical or impossible to do so.
- Officers have discretion to activate the camera during any legitimate law enforcement activity if they believe recording may be appropriate. They have discretion to de-activate the camera in places or situations where there’s a heightened expectation of privacy (e.g., locker rooms or rest rooms). They also have the discretion to de-activate in order to secure statements from witnesses and victims.
- Officers will notify people as soon as possible that they are being recorded unless it’s unsafe, impractical or impossible to do so. Civilians cannot choose whether or not they are recorded.
- Retention periods for footage depend on the type of incident. For the least serious incidents, the retention period is 18 months. For the most serious felonies, the footage is kept permanently.
- BWC footage is a public record subject to release under the Maryland Public Information Act and other relevant laws to the public, including media. Baltimore County will treat requests for footage the same as requests for any other police record. The same exceptions apply. Footage of incidents in which there is a compelling public interest may be posted to official Police Department platforms.
Johnson, who has been a law enforcement officer for nearly 40 years, called development of a body-worn camera program "the most challenging project I've ever been involved with. Cameras are part of our world. It's the right time for Baltimore County Police to develop consistent policies, procedures and practices for the use of cameras as a tool to enhance public safety. I'm confident our program will accomplish that."
An eight-year, $12.5 million contract with Taser International, Inc. includes purchase of the Axon Flex camera (BCoPD offers officers a choice of camera mounts), maintenance, unlimited data storage, licenses and other expenses. These costs will be paid with revenue from the County's speed camera program.
When fully implemented in FY2019, the ongoing annual maintenance cost of the cameras will be an estimated $1.6 million. The speed camera program will cover the cost of Police personnel needed to run the program – about $1.1 million. The remaining $500,000 of the personnel cost will be covered by the Office of Information Technology and the State's Attorney's Office.