By Keith Runk
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore County Police Department on Tuesday asked the County Council to approve a $300,000 private grant that would improve the department’s sexual assault investigations.
The funds are being awarded to the county by the Hackerman Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit. If approved, the grant would be primarily dedicated to enhanced rape kit testing. Additional funds would be allocated to staffing the department’s Special Victims Unit and covering training, travel and equipment costs.
The grant comes in response to the Baltimore County Sexual Assault Investigation Task Force’s final report and recommendations for the police department, which found that the department was inadequate in handling sexual assault investigations. The funds would address several of the task force’s key recommendations, Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa R. Hyatt said.
“We absolutely have a need to make sure that we are serving the community and our victims in the best way possible,” Hyatt said. “This very generous grant would give us to ability to be able to do that.”
Del. Shelly Hettleman—who represents Baltimore County in the Maryland General Assembly—pledged her “wholehearted support” of the bill.
“We have been doing quite a lot of work at the state level to ensure that survivors are taken seriously and to ensure that the material that is collected at designated hospitals throughout the state is tested,” Hettleman said.
In addition to investigating new and future cases, the top priority of the department is testing historical biological evidence from decades-old sexual assault cold cases, according to Hyatt.
In the 1970s, Dr. Rudiger Breitenecker began preserving DNA gathered from sexual assault victims on microscope slides at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in what is now known as the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Program (SAFE). These slides are known as SAFE or GBMC kits.
Dr. Breitenecker preserved the evidence in anticipation of technological advancements and his foresight has allowed Baltimore County police to close dozens of cold cases.
Under the proposal, $189,720 of the grant would go toward testing SAFE kits at GBMC. Additional funding includes a $37,700 salary for one part-time police assistant position, $32,250 for overtime for existing personnel, $25,925 for travel and training, and $14,405 for electronic and computer equipment.
The grant would be received by the department in quarterly increments, Hyatt said.
“This will go a long way in ensuring that the police department has the resources that it needs and that the survivor’s needs are addressed as well,” Hettleman said.
This grant would come just after U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin as well as U.S. Representatives Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes announced $477,000 in federal funding for both the Baltimore County and Baltimore City police departments to process DNA samples. The county receives $225,000 and the city receives the remaining $252,000.
The Hackerman Grant, with the affirmative vote of five members of the County Council would take effect Dec. 15. The vote will be come at the council’s next legislative session at 6 p.m. Monday.