(BALTIMORE) — The president of the country’s largest sexual assault advocacy organization has responded to the scathing Department of Justice report raising “serious concerns” on gender-biased policing within the Baltimore Police Department.
Scott Berkowitz, the president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), said, “Leadership is the key thing that seemed to be missing in Baltimore.”
“There’s a lot of good law enforcement out there who take this crime very seriously,” Berkowitz said, adding that he’s witnessed several police departments beef up training for investigators and teaching detectives how to interview victims in a “sensitive way.”
The Department of Justice released a report earlier this week stating Baltimore police officers violated the constitutional rights of residents on a routine basis, conducting unlawful stops and using excessive force.
The report also contained a section on the department’s mishandling of sexual assault investigations, which stated that there was evidence of gender bias in police response to sexual assault with officers’ treatment of sexual assault victims.
BPD officers would often interview sexual assault victims in a manner that would place the blame “on the victim’s shoulders,” according to the report, with questions suggesting the victims should feel personally responsible for the potential consequences of a criminal report on a suspect or for having engaged in behavior that “invited the assault.”
Officers would ask questions like, “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?” as well as questions suggesting that they discredited the reports from victims who delayed reporting the assault to police, the report said.
The DOJ also said it was “troubled” by statements of Baltimore detectives suggesting an “undue skepticism” of sexual assault reports. A victim advocate said that a detective in the BPD Sex Offense Unit made comments at a party that, “in homicide, there are real victims; all our cases are bulls—,” the report said. The comments were made in the company of other BPD officers and victim advocates.
In one email correspondence, a prosecutor wrote that a case was “crazy” and that the victim seemed like “a conniving little w—-.”
In addition, the DOJ found indications that Baltimore police disregarded reports of sexual assault by people involved in the sex trade and received allegations of officers’ mistreatment of transgender individuals. It also found that the BPD failed to identify and collect evidence to corroborate victims’ complaints, had missing or inadequate documentation of investigation, and failed to collect and review data about reports of sexual assault. There was also a lack of supervisory review, the DOJ said.
Berkowitz said it is “horrifying” that the BPD would be so cavalier about “such a serious crime” as sexual assault.
“For a large police force to just not put effort into really solving these crimes, and to mistreat victims, is just horrible,” Berkowitz said, adding that he was not aware of the systemic mistreatment of sexual assault investigations by the BPD until the report was released.
After the report was released, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he was “very, very concerned” about the information, adding that action had been taken against some police officers in regard to the “more egregious” acts described by investigators. Some officers were fired, while others were disciplined, he said.
“Change is painful, but nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong,” Davis said, promising that the department would police in a “lawful and respectful way.”
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