A new New York Police Department internal investigation criticizes the way the department handles sexual assaults, citing issues such as an understaffed Special Victims Division and a prioritization of some sex crimes over others.
The nation’s largest police department, according to the report by its own Department of Investigation, or DOI, must double the number of detectives in the unit in order to fully investigate all adult sex crimes. The division has been understaffed for at least the past nine years, according to the report, and upper level NYPD officials had ignored guidance from an earlier internal report to expand the division. Officials within the unit had also written memos addressing staffing problems as recently as 2015, according to the report.
In response to these ongoing concerns, the report indicates that in 2011, an NYPD deputy commissioner told others the Special Victims Division “did not have to investigate every misdemeanor [sex crime].”
The NYPD also prioritized investigating “stranger rape” cases above “acquaintance and domestic rape” cases, according to the DOI. Ninety percent of reported rape cases each year in New York City fall in the latter category. The report also described a lack of substantial training for Special Victims Division detectives, squad locations that were found to be cramped, unsanitary, and inappropriate for sex crime victims, and a variety of other issues as having a negative impact on the division’s activities and investigations.
As a result of inadequate staffing, training and the sheer volume of cases, service providers and victim advocates described numerous instances in which inexperienced detectives or police officers responded insensitively, dismissively or incredulously during some victim interviews, and infrequently updated victims on the status of their case.
City investigators, victim advocates, service providers and sex crime prosecutors say these kinds of failures are the primary reason victims “disengage from the investigative process.”
The report also included 12 recommendations for the department to resolve the “systemic” issues it had uncovered, including an immediate hiring expansion of the Special Victims Division, more training for Special Victims Division detectives, and Special Victims Division involvement in investigating all sex crimes.
In a statement, NYPD Assistant Commissioner J. Peter Donald called the report inaccurate and misleading, noting that the DOI did not speak with top NYPD officials, including Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce, who oversees the Special Victims Division. Donald also addressed the report’s criticisms about training, calling the detectives on the team the “best trained investigators in the NYPD.”
“Even the Inspector General’s own document recognizes that the NYPD has been and continues to be the leader in investigating sex crimes — a view held by many others — in New York City and around the world,” his statement says.
Michael Bock, a former sergeant in the NYPD Special Victims Division, told CNN he believed the report’s depiction of the division was “on point” and that the DOI has a “good understanding of what’s going on” in the division. The 25-year veteran of the NYPD, who worked with the Special Victims Division for nearly 10 years, called on the department to implement all the recommendations made by the DOI.
“I’m not surprised by the Inspector General’s report,” he said. “Somebody did their job. That is a true depiction of what’s going on in Special Victims. It’s not for the lack of effort on detectives’ and supervisors’ part. They are dedicated, steadfast and some of the best investigators the NYPD has. They just don’t have the right tools to do their job. The tools are the recommendations made by the Inspector General.”
Boyce, who addressed reporters during a news conference on Tuesday, said he disagreed with a number of points in the report, including the report’s emphasis on a high caseload for detectives, a figure that informed the report’s recommendation that the department hire more detectives.
During that same news conference, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said his team needed to take a closer look at the report before deciding which, if any, of the recommendations to implement.
“The reports we get from DOI are helpful,” O’Neill told reporters. “It’s good, sometimes, to get an objective view on what we do, so I’m sure there’s a number of things in that report that we’ll take into consideration.”