$1M pledged to help Baltimore victims after scathing report

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday pledged at least $1 million in grants to help groups that serve victims of sexual assault and human trafficking in Baltimore after the Justice Department found the police department's responses to sexual assault "grossly inadequate."

The Republican governor said the money represents immediate action to improve services to victims. Hogan also voiced confidence in Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis to address issues raised by last week's report, which focused on police discrimination against blacks and repeated use of excessive force.

"Ultimately, addressing the many issues raised by the DOJ report, including the disproportionate treatment of African-Americans and other minorities, is a long process that the city is just beginning to undertake," Hogan said in a statement. "Going forward, our administration looks forward to working with local leadership and law enforcement on the possible ways the state can continue to support their efforts."

The state will use federal Victims of Crime Act funding available to the state, as well as other federal funding streams. Awards will be made in the early fall, the Hogan administration said.

The federal investigation that resulted in the Justice Department report was launched after the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken while he was handcuffed and shackled but left unrestrained in the back of a police van. The death set off protests and the worst riots in the city in decades.

The 164-page report focused on how the city's police officers carry out the most fundamental policing practices, including traffic stops and searches, and respond to First Amendment expression. The report included six pages on how the department handles sexual assault investigations. Investigators found that the police department "systemically under-investigates reports of sexual assault," and the investigations it does conduct "are marked by practices that significantly compromise the effectiveness and impartiality of its response to sexual assault."

"(Baltimore Police Department's) response to reports of sexual assault is, overall, grossly inadequate: for example, BPD allows more than half of its rape cases to linger in an 'open' status, often for years at a time, with little to no follow-up investigation, while fewer than one in four of its rape investigations are closed due to the arrest of a suspect, a rate roughly half of the national average ...," the report said.

The Justice Department also found police persistently fail to request lab testing of rape kits and other forensic evidence. Between 2010 and 2014, for example, the report found rape kits were tested in only 15 percent of cases involving sexual assaults of adult victims.

Separately, Hogan announced $500,000 to keep a violence-intervention initiative in the city known as Safe Streets operating through January, when a new mayor will be able to develop a long-term plan. The initiative hires former felons and ex-gang members to mediate potentially violent conflicts. It was facing closure after $1 million in funding was caught up in an $80 million package the governor declined to approve as part of lingering budget wrangling with the Democrat-controlled legislature.

"In the coming months, I plan to work with the governor, city officials and members of Baltimore's philanthropic community to ensure long-term funding for this important program," said Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young.

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