The NYPD’s Special Victims Division is woefully understaffed and under-trained despite a recent surge in cases, according to a blistering new report that also blasts Police Commissioner James O’Neill for giving out inaccurate information.
In the 163-page report made public Tuesday, the Department of Investigation found that problems within SVD over the past nine years resulted in sex crime cases not being properly investigated — with some botched altogether.
SVD’s Special Victims Squad, which investigates adult sex crimes in each of the five boroughs, had only 67 detectives — just five of whom were first-grade detectives — handling 5,661 cases in 2017.
The report compared the staggering numbers to NYPD’s homicide squad, which had 101 detectives and 282 homicides in 2017.
The lack of staff has been so problematic that in 2011, NYPD leadership directed SVD to “simply not investigate all misdemeanor sexual assaults,” according to the report, which also noted that SVD detectives did not follow this edict.
The report specifically calls out statements made by O’Neill at a Dec. 4, 2017, press conference about the department’s handling of sex crimes.
Responding to a question about an increase in reported rapes, O’Neill said the chief of detectives had “put more people into Special Victims,” especially more “seasoned investigators.”
But the DOI found that SVD gained just four new investigators in 2017 — all of whom ranked as police officers serving “provisionally” as detectives and were transferred to the Staten Island squad.
“In short, contrary to the clear implication of NYPD’s public statements, no new ‘seasoned’ detectives were added to investigate adult sex crimes in 2017,” the DOI report said.
O’Neill made other contradictory statements at that press conference, including that “each rape that is reported is fully investigated by the seasoned professionals in Special Victims.”
Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill has provided false information, according to a report by the Department of Investigation.Natan Dvir
But not all rapes are treated equally, according to the DOI.
The report cites NYPD documents that prove a longstanding policy existed where “acquaintance” and “domestic” rape were not investigated post-arrest by SVD but instead kept at the local precinct level.
“The failure to treat acquaintance and domestic rape as crimes on par with stranger rape is unacceptable in modern law enforcement,” the report said.
SVD officials have long complained about the staffing issues — but the DOI found that “NYPD leadership failed to appropriately respond to these requests.”
The DOI report is the result of a year-long investigation involving interviews with current and former SVD staffers, sex crime victims and prosecutors — who’ve provided anecdotes about prosecutions that were “hindered or frustrated entirely — by simple evidentiary, interview or documentation mistakes that an experienced detective would not make.”
New SVD recruits receive little training — just five days — compared to six to eight weeks for a motorcycle patrol officer, the report said.
Prosecutions have suffered due to issues within SVD.
In one case, a service provider told DOI how a client waited at a hospital for an SVD detective for an entire night. When no one showed, the “thoroughly discouraged” victim decided not to report the crime to police and went home.
A prosecutor also told DOI investigators about how a rape prosecution was “irreparably damaged” because a new SVD recruit failed to properly document a victim interview.
The DOI makes several recommendations to overhaul SVD, including immediately increase staffing by 74 detectives, improve training and obtain a better computer data system.
It also said the NYPD should find new locations for all five SVD units — or completely renovate them. Squalid conditions exist at each of the SVD buildings, including a broken urinal filled with “stagnant urine” in Manhattan and a leaky roof and crumbling walls in Brooklyn.
The buildings also have layout issues that present problems, like only one entrance for victims and suspects, no waiting rooms for victims and cramped office spaces with multiple uses, like in Brooklyn, where a detective sergeant’s office doubled as an observation room for lineups.
Some squads use a “bullpen” area to conduct interviews “in view of holding cells and within earshot of other detectives.”
The NYPD received a copy of the DOI report two weeks ago and “did not dispute the accuracy of the number of staff” “or the authenticity of documents cited in the report,” the DOI said in its report.
“NYPD, however, rejected the staffing calculations used by DOI and the proposed staffing numbers flowing from these calculations, claiming that current SVD caseloads are appropriate,” the report said.
Andrea Hagelgans, a senior advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, responded to the report by saying:
“Rape and sexual assault need no qualifiers, and that’s why the largest and most sophisticated special victim’s unit in the country exhaustively investigates each reported incident. The department will take the report’s findings into account as it continues to sharpen its investigative efforts, already best in the nation.”