The Baltimore Police Department is toughening up on sexual assault investigations by softening its surroundings for survivors.
A new interviewing room unveiled Wednesday at police headquarters has soft lighting, comfy chairs, artwork and other components designed to ease the interviewing process for sexual assault survivors. A similar area down the hall has a TV, vibrant carpeting and similar fixtures placed there to help calm waiting family members.
Both rooms differ greatly from the bare-bones, all-purpose facilities where many imagine police interview suspects and victims alike.
New rooms, Victim-Centered Trauma Informed Interview and Waiting Rooms. Before below, after above. See periscope above for more: pic.twitter.com/i3v6wDITMP
— Baltimore Police (@BaltimorePolice) September 28, 2016
“Once [survivors] enter into our space, if they’re put inside of a room that resembles an interrogation room that you would see on Hill Street Blues, that doesn’t bode well for our interaction with that survivor,” said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis at the unveiling.
Davis said he hopes the new space tells survivors, “You are not in a confrontational place. We believe you, we are here to help you and you’re safe.”
To build the rooms, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and police worked with nonprofit Mission 14. The group donated an eye for design and artwork, as well as the raw materials.
As Davis noted, the Department of Justice’s scathing investigative report released in August formally cast a dark view of how BPD handles sexual assault cases. The report said many officers “fail to meaningfully investigate reports of sexual assault” and that detectives do a poor job of developing cases and gathering evidence to corroborate victims’ accounts, among other missteps.
While the new spaces cannot fix the department’s issues at their core, the redesign indicates renewed attention by police to working with survivors in a hard-nosed crime setting.
Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in an email that the new rooms are part of “the larger effort to improve the City’s response to sexual violence and should not be minimized.”
She noted that now, the right people must be in there talking to survivors.
“Trauma-informed training for professionals using the space is also key to reforming the system,” she said.
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