Towson University Police wrongfully labeled noncompliant by Maryland sexual assault evidence kit committee

By Caitlyn Freeman, Editor in Chief 

Towson University’s Police Department was incorrectly listed as one of 33 local law enforcement agencies that did not comply with a state request to share how many rape kits they possessed last year, according to Maryland’s attorney general. 

The error was included on a January report released by the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee, a task force in the state’s Office of the Attorney General. 

However, Towson Police does not analyze rape kits, as the agency yields most investigative power of on-campus sexual assaults to the Baltimore County Police Department. When such sex crimes occur, Towson’s department appoints an investigator to work with Baltimore County police. 

The reporting error 

The committee originated from a law the Maryland General Assembly passed in 2017. The legislation intended to help determine standards for handling sexual assault evidence kits that law enforcement possessed.

The committee also asks law enforcement agencies each year to disclose the number of testing kits they possess. However, there’s currently no penalty for agencies that do not meet the committee’s request. 

Carisa Hatfield, an assistant attorney general, said in an interview Wednesday the committee took this approach because it is more interested in receiving data on rape kits rather than punishing the law enforcement agencies.

However, the committee publishes the names of agencies that do not comply with the rape kit request in hopes of holding them accountable, Hatfield said. It also wants to inform the public about which agencies are transparent with their data.

The error on the January report stemmed from another committee report in 2020, which listed Towson police as an agency that investigates sexual assaults. The committee relied on this information when it asked law enforcement agencies whether they collect rape kits. 

The 2020 report states that law enforcement bodies self-report whether they investigate sexual assaults.

After The Towerlight inquired about the January report, Hatfield said the committee approached Towson to clear up any discrepancies. In doing so, she said the impression she got from university officials was that they defer all sexual assault investigations to Baltimore County police. 

However, this is not the case. 

A memorandum of understanding between Towson and Baltimore County police states the university department will appoint an investigator to assist with the county probe. 

Towson police is also the primary agency that investigates third and fourth degree on-campus sexual assaults, university spokesperson said in a text message Thursday.

“Regardless of which agency is primary on an investigation, any sexual assault kit would go to Baltimore County,” the spokesperson said.

Hatfield, who stepped into her role earlier this year, said she could not speak to how the errors occurred. Towson Police Chief Joe Herring said late Thursday that the police department did not find any communications between it and the committee in 2019 or 2020.

He said the committee did not notify the department last year that it was not in compliance with the rape kit request.

Herring confirmed through a spokesperson Thursday that Baltimore County is the custodian of sexual assault evidence kits, including ones linked to on-campus cases.  Towson police told the committee last month it does not possess rape kits, Herring said.

The committee reached out to the university after The Towerlight contacted it regarding the error, Hatfield said. Towson officials did not explain to Hatfield why the police department was listed as an organization that investigates sexual assaults involving kits in the 2020 report, she said. 

Hatfield said the committee is “committed” to revising the online version of the 2022 report, which it plans to do by the end of the month.

TUPD and County Police 

For many years, Towson and Baltimore County police have maintained memorandums of understanding that outline their respective responsibilities when a violent crime occurs.

The Towerlight obtained copies of the agreements through several Maryland Public Information Act requests. The two police departments meet regularly to review the agreement and ensure it’s still effective, Herring said in an April interview. 

The primary agreement between the two departments, dated February 2008, details the coordination of law enforcement duties.

While the university’s police department is a fully-sworn force, it defers investigations of violent crime, such as a rape, to the county. If an on-campus rape or sexual assault in the first or second degree occurs, Towson Police will notify the county police, who act as primary investigators. 

In these cases, the university will assign an investigator to conduct a joint investigation with the county police, the agreement states. County police also has jurisdiction over on-campus homicides, unattended deaths and physical or sexual abuse of children.

The university did not respond to questions as to what a joint investigation entails.

Trae Corbin, a spokesperson for county police, said in an email Thursday a joint investigation means the two agencies work together, but the “extent of that varies depending on the case.” 

The county and university police signed another agreement in 2019 laying out the process for investigating on-campus sexual assaults. The 2019 memorandum reaffirms the county as the primary investigator for violent crimes.  Baltimore County also struck agreements with other area colleges, including the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  

Herring said previously Towson police defers violent crimes to the county because it is more well-resourced and only few of them occur on campus. 

There were 10 on-campus rapes in 2021, according to a public report. There were five instances of fondling that same year.


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