Feds investigating NYPD sex crimes unit

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it was opening an investigation into the Special Victims Division of the NYPD to assess whether or not it had engaged in a pattern of gender-biased policing.

The investigation will look into the unit's policies, procedures, and training, along with how it interacts with survivors and witnesses, collects evidence,  completes investigations, and more.

They said they also want to see what steps the police department has taken to address deficiencies in its handling of sexual assault crimes, including its staffing and the services and support it offers sexual assault survivors.

"Survivors of sexual assault should expect effective, trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations by police departments," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a statement. "Based on information provided to the Justice Department, we find significant justification to investigate whether the NYPD’s Special Victims Division engages in a pattern or practice of gender-biased policing. Investigations into sexual assault that comply with the Constitution promote accountability, enhance public safety and foster community trust."

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The investigation comes after years of reports of deficient practices by the NYPD in its sex crimes probe and a 2019 lawsuit in which two women claimed that the NYPD's Special Victims Division had mistreated them.

One woman alleged detectives shrugged off her report of being raped by someone she’d been involved with, logging it as a "dispute" instead of a sex crime.

Another woman said her account of being kidnapped and gang-raped was grossly mishandled by a sex-crimes detective for months before she was told the case was "too complex" to investigate.

After the lawsuit and a leadership shakeup, the NYPD pledged to change its ways. But victims say the promised reforms haven't arrived.

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In a statement, the NYPD said it welcomed the review.

"As an agency, we have committed to improving the quality of our investigations and the care provided by the Special Victims Division when working with some of the most vulnerable survivors of crime," the NYPD said.

According to the NYPD, in May, the Department publicly posted the results of an independent review into the SVD, which concluded that there was much the SVD did well but also cited several areas for improvement. 

"We continue the NYPD’s commitment to the development of the Special Victims Division. Our goal is for SVD to be the national model. I believe any constructive review of our practices in the Special Victims Division will show that the NYPD has been evolving and improving in this area but we will be transparent and open to criticism as well as ideas in the process," said Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.

"There is no higher priority for law enforcement than ensuring that victims of sexual assault get the justice they deserve and the care, support, and treatment they need," said Max Young, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams. "We welcome this review, will cooperate fully in this investigation, and will continue to take all steps necessary to ensure we fix problems that have been decades in the making."

Last October, a woman who identified herself as Christine told a City Council hearing that detectives made fundamental mistakes in investigating her rape.

She said they failed to interview witnesses or collect security camera footage from the bar where she’d been before the attack.

Instead, she said, they wanted to set up a "traumatizing controlled phone call with the man who raped me," failed to test for date-rape drugs and closed the case twice without telling her.

With the Associated Press.