County officials were listening closely when Attorney General Brian Frosh called for statewide rules for rape kit testing among all police departments. In fact, authorities in two Baltimore-area jurisdictions were apparently already considering some major changes before Frosh’s report came out.
The Baltimore County Police Department says County Executive Kevin Kamenetz had ordered a review of the department’s sexual assault testing policies during the fall. That order came shortly after Buzzfeed ran a scathing investigative report on the department’s checkered history with sexual assault cases.
In a well-timed announcement, Police Chief Jim Johnson announced on Monday, Jan. 2, that the department would be changing its policy for storing kits tied to cases of second-degree sexual assault and rape by holding onto them indefinitely. The department already had that indefinite time limit in place for kits from first-degree sex assault and rape cases.
“The important thing is to be sensitive to the victim,” Johnson said in a statement. “Longer retention periods for rape kits allow victims in these very personal crimes time to heal and make the right decision for themselves regarding prosecution.”
Frosh’s report, dated Jan. 1 but released on Jan. 3, noted Baltimore County police had a three-month storage limit for kits with anonymous victims, which was far shorter than the indefinite time limit used in Montgomery County and the 18-month limits in Howard County and Baltimore City.
The Anne Arundel County Police Department has now also decided to change the way it handles rape kit testing. WBAL-TV reports police there will now hold onto all kits indefinitely with a goal to leave no kit untested. They’ll also start using a national DNA screening database to see if their evidence matches up with any men in the system, according to the station. Like Baltimore County, they say they had decided to makes some changes before Frosh’s report was released.
Frosh’s report calls for rape kit testing policy uniformity among police statewide, rather than a specific time limit that police departments should use for testing rape kits. With at least three area police departments – Montgomery, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County – now going with the indefinite time limit for most of their kits, one trend seems to be developing.
It remains to be seen whether Frosh’s list of recommendations will make its way onto the floor at the General Assembly, which began its 2017 session today. For actual statewide uniformity, a legislative mandate is the best bet for large-scale reform.
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