The NYPD's Special Victims Division sees rape cases where the victim knows their assailant as less important, even though they make up 90% of rapes in the city. Credit: Getty Images

The NYPD's Special Victims Division sees rape cases where the victim knows their assailant as less important, even though they make up 90% of rapes in the city. Credit: Getty Images

Victims of sexual assault in New York City wouldn’t want the real-life version of the Special Victims Unit investigating their case.

 

The NYPD’s Special Victims Division has been understaffed for eight years and doesn’t investigate many incidents of sexual assault, especially when the victim knows their rapist, according to a damning report by the Department of Investigations, which oversees the city’s law-enforcement agencies.

 

The year-long investigation found a “longstanding” practice by the NYPD that leaves local precincts in charge of investigating sex crimes in cases of date rape (the police term is acquaintance rape) and domestic rape (between spouses) after patrol officers make an arrest. Precinct-level detectives are not trained in investigating sex crimes.

 

Acquaintance and domestic rapes make up almost 90% of reported rapes in the city, according to internal NYPD documents.

 

“Stranger rapes” and “more high-profile cases” were prioritized by the SVD because they’re seen as posing a greater risk to the public, which the DOI report slams as false: “In reality, both are similar in their behavioral profiles and pose similar safety threats to the public at large.”

 

DOI compiled its report from interviews with current and former SVD officials, including detectives, prosecutors and victim advocates, who told the agency that SVD has “diluted” and “shortened” investigations because of staffing problems, which also led to “jeopardized prosecutions, re-traumatized victims, and negatively impacted the reporting of sex crimes, thereby adversely affecting public safety.”

A 2010 audit of the department found it short by 26 detectives, but the NYPD did nothing to hire more personnel. When SVD asked the NYPD for additional staff and resources in 2011, a deputy commissioner told the agency it “did not have to investigate every misdemeanor [sex crime],” according to the report. Misdemeanor sex crimes in New York City include sexual abuse, forcible touching, necrophilia and soliciting a prostitute.

That shortage has only gotten more severe. The caseload for SVD detectives has increased by 65.3% since 2009, while staffing has remained nearly unchanged, according to the report. SVD would now need to hire 73 detectives to keep up with the caseload reported in 2017, and even more if it starts investigating all reported sex crimes.

But even when SVD gets new recruits, they’re vastly undertrained compared to the rest of the NYPD. According to the report, new SVD officers get 40 hours of instruction — a new motorcycle patrol officer receives between six and eight weeks of training. In the report, SVD admits it can take up to five years for new officers to gain the necessary experience to investigate sex crimes.

“Victims of sexual assault deserve justice, with the full weight of law enforcement by their side,” says DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters. “The neglect and understaffing of NYPD’s Special Victims Division are serious and deeply troubling, and the failure to treat acquaintance rape as an equal priority is unacceptable.”

In a statement to Metro, the police department heavily disputes the report’s findings, calling it "inaccurate" and "misleading." It disputes the number of detectives at SVD, which it says stands at 85 rather than 67 as in the report, though that would still leave the division short by 55 detectives according to the recommendations of the DOI.

The deparment also pointed out that SVD detectives are trained in the latest Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview technique, in addition to general sex crimes training and a two-week investigation course.