rosenthal svd

CALLING FOR A FIX: Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, left, was among those demanding an overhaul of the NYPD’s Special Victims Division, which investigates sexual assaults. They said Mayor de Blasio and the department have failed to adequately address SVD shortcomings detailed in a lengthy 2018 report by the city Department of Investigation. 

The NYPD’s foundering efforts to reform its Special Victims Division has imperiled residents, particularly women, by diluting its ability to effectively investigate sexual assaults, advocates said Feb 18.

The advocates were especially critical of Mayor de Blasio’s and the department’s apparent unwillingness to boost staffing and training within the SVD based on recommendations outlined in a lengthy 2018 Department of Investigation report.

‘In Danger’

“The NYPD’s Special Victims Division is understaffed, undertrained and under-supported, and as a result women in New York City are in danger, and rape survivors are being denied justice,” Jane Manning, the director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, said during a press conference on the steps of City Hall. “Mayor de Blasio it is on you to fix this.”


JUDITH HARRISON: Took over troubled unit.

The advocates spoke out the day after the publication of a story in the New York Times that detailed the failure of a Special Victims Division Detective to properly investigate and follow up on a New York University freshman’s rape claim.

An NYPD source corroborated the advocates’ assertions, saying they were emblematic of deep-rooted institutional indifference.

In the NYU case, for instance, the source said the investigating Detective, William McLaughlin, essentially dissuaded the victim from pursuing the matter, which was particularly troubling since an early-morning home invasion by a masked intruder is considered among the most serious of sexual assaults.

Discouraged Going Forward

Seeing that the victim had condoms in her room, Detective McLaughlin suggested to her that her name and picture would “be all over the papers,” the source said (news outlets, as a matter of course, do not publish rape victims’ details). 

The source further paraphrased the Detective’s advice this way: “The Defense attorney is going to make you look like a slut on the witness stand for having those condoms in your apartment.”

The Detective “knows what he’s saying is wrong. He’s trying to get her not to participate,” the source said.

The victim and her mother decided they would no longer cooperate with the investigation, and Detective McLaughlin did not do further work on the case, including when, two months following the woman’s rape, investigators matched fingerprints found on a condom inside the apartment to a man being held at Rikers Island on burglary charges.

Police, who had  a video image of a suspect in the NYU rape later identified as Tyler Lockett, nevertheless “kept the case closed.”

The source said Detective McLaughin’s investigative effort—and by extension the department’s—illustrated “systematic failings” within the Special Victims Division.

Despite having evidence that implicated the 22-year-old Mr. Lockett for the rape, the NYPD did not ask the Department of Correction to notify police when he was released. He sexually assaulted three other women over a two-week period.

“The case is a catastrophic failure not just on McLaughlin, but the people who sit above him,” the source said. “All the systems that should be in place failed.”

NYPD: 'Misleading Attacks'

Devora Kaye, the NYPD's acting Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, said criticism of the division was misplaced and could potentially discourage victims from reporting incidents.

"Recent criticism of SVD has presented inflammatory and inaccurate charges that ignore the real improvements that have been implemented over the past year," she said in a statement. "The NYPD will never be complacent—because survivors deserve the very best police work and personal assistance we can possibly provide. But it is critical to have an honest, fully-informed discussion about where the Special Victims Division is now—not repeat stale charges."

The department urges victims to report sexual assaults, Ms. Kaye said, "and we pledge to continue to do everything possible to investigate it, no matter when it occurred or who it is against."

The president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, Paul DiGiacomo, said it was his understanding that the NYU rape victim “was uncooperative and did not want to prosecute.”

He otherwise praised the work being done by SVD investigators, who, despite a shortage of personnel department-wide, remain professional and thorough.

“The Detectives in the Special Victims Division do an outstanding job in investigating and convicting criminals who prey on the people of our city,” Mr. DiGiacomo said.

He said he planned to meet with the Mayor to request that more Detectives be placed on duty.

‘No Surprise’

But Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, citing the 2018 DOI report that cataloged numerous shortcomings at the SVD, said the fallout from the faulty investigation, while astonishing, “shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.” “It’s been two years, and now we’re seeing the consequences of the lack of action,” she said at the press conference. “This person went out and sex-assaulted three more victims. That’s the consequence of not having enough staff, of not training people well.”

She and others at the press conference called on Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Shea to assume a more-active role in addressing the division’s shortcomings.

Ms. Rosenthal said the solutions to what she described as “a quality-of-life issue for 51 percent of the population” are within that report.

The report, released in March 2018 by the DOI’s Inspector General for the NYPD, followed a 12-month investigation into the division using NYPD data, testimony and meetings memoranda to detail severe staffing, training and other deficiencies within the division.

‘He Collapsed It’

But the NYPD source said that Mr. Shea, who was tasked with revamping the SVD after the report’s release, instead dismantled it. “Although Shea had 18 months to fix it, he did the reverse. He collapsed it,” the source said. “In essence, [Former Commissioner James] O’Neill, [Chief of Department Terrence] Monahan, and Shea broke it. They own it... They had no interest in fixing it.”

He said Mr. Shea weakened a key mechanism of the SVD when he decommissioned Division units charged with investigative quality control of the divisions’ roughly 15,000 annual sexual-assault cases, including a predictive-data science team. “These units were small but they were effective,” the source said.

“The Special Victims Division is the most-complicated division in the NYPD. You have to put your most experienced people in there,” he said. “They broke it. They severely broke it.”

In November 2018, the department announced several changes within the division, including the addition of dozens of investigators and support staff. Division Detectives’ caseloads, the department said at the time, had decreased by nearly 17 percent since the end of 2017, to just under 64 cases. Caseloads would again decrease, to about 61, as of last September.

Accelerated Training

The department also instituted “accelerated training” for all SVD investigators, including trauma-interview instruction “to ensure [investigators] are victim-centered when they respond to a sex crime.”

"We are deeply committed to doing everything and anything necessary to ensure survivors feel the safety and support needed to come forward, bravely share their experiences, and help the NYPD bring to justice those who have committed these horrific crimes,” Mr. Shea said at the time.

The adjustments at the division also included the appointment of a new commander and several Assistant Chiefs by then-Commissioner O’Neill. The new commander, Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, replaced Deputy Chief Michael Osgood, who was transferred out after having lobbied hard for additional resources. He had also detailed the Divisions’ shortcomings to the DOI, whose findings were ultimately made public.

The law-enforcement source said Chief Harrison lacked investigative experience and was therefore “severely underqualified,” particularly in how to manage the day-to-day of investigations.

'No Intellectual Depth'

He characterized the changes at the division as cosmetic at best, in that they reflect an inability to recognize the extent of the SVD's deficiencies.

“They don’t have intellectual depth,” he said of Commissioner Shea and SVD leadership. “Rape  is a deep trespass on the human soul...If Detectives and investigators are neglecting basic investigative work on brutal rapes, he asked, “what are they doing on less-serious sexual assault charges?”

The department did not reply to a request to speak with Chief Harrison. 

Involve the State

The source praised the advocates’ expertise and for speaking out as forcefully as they did. “They’re very smart. They aren’t radicals...They are rape-crisis workers. They are attorneys; they are caseworkers” who work with hundreds of rape survivors a year.  

“They see how rape victims are treated by the NYPD,” he said. “They are able to see the treatment and the case work as inadequate...They’re experts. They have been complaining for the last 10 years. They’ve been pointedly ignored for past three years.”

He said that the SVD’s deficiencies are serious enough that state authorities should step in.

“The Governor should find the legal authority to appoint an external independent monitor,” he said. “This has to be fixed. It’s too important not be fixed.”

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