By Meg O’Connor / The Appeal
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it has opened an investigation into the New York City Police Department’s sex crimes unit.
“Over the last several months, we have learned concerning information from a variety of sources of historical issues about the way the Special Victims Division has conducted its investigations for many years,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York in a Justice Department statement announcing the probe.
The investigation will assess whether the Special Victims Division (SVD) engages in a “pattern or practice of gender-biased policing,” and the department will conduct a “comprehensive review of the policies, procedures and training for SVD investigations of sexual assault crimes,” according to the statement. The areas it will probe include:
- How SVD interacts with survivors and witnesses, collects evidence, and completes investigations
- How SVD allocates staffing and other resources
- Any steps the NYPD has taken to address deficiencies in its handling of sexual assault crimes
- The services and support offered to survivors of sexual assault.
The DOJ has informed New York Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell of the probe.
Last year, sexual assault survivors asked the DOJ to investigate the NYPD’s repeated mishandling of sex crime cases. The DOJ press release notes that the department received information “alleging deficiencies at SVD that have persisted for more than a decade.”
“This investigation is happening because of the collective power of survivors,” Alison Turkos told The Appeal. Turkos reported an assault to the NYPD in 2017 and her case was badly botched. “Survivors who joined together to build community and work toward true justice and accountability. I love and trust survivors, I just wish the city of New York felt the same.”
As The Appeal previously reported, the NYPD’s sex crimes division has been plagued by problems for years. In 2018, The Appeal documented instances in which special victims detectives pressured rape victims into signing a form that closed their case against their will. In 2019, data showed that the NYPD closed nearly 500 rape cases — 25 percent of all rapes reported that year — due to an alleged lack of participation from rape victims. Then in 2020, the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau investigated several SVD sergeants and lieutenants over allegations that they had stolen company time and drank on the job.
And last year, five former high-ranking SVD officials told The Appeal that the NYPD has spent years neglecting serious structural problems that have long damaged sex crimes and child abuse investigations in New York City. In multiple cases, women were assaulted and children were killed after detectives failed to appropriately investigate reports of rape or abuse.
In March 2018, New York City’s Department of Investigation (DOI) released a report that found the division was understaffed and under-resourced for nine years, despite recommendations from an NYPD working group and warnings from the division’s leadership. The report included internal NYPD documents obtained by the DOI that “acknowledge that many sexual assault cases are not properly investigated due to staffing and resource limitations.”
The NYPD disputed the DOI report, calling it “an investigation in name only.” The department ignored many of the DOI’s recommendations. Then they removed the SVD commanding officer, Deputy Chief Michael Osgood, whose pleas to increase staffing at the division were ignored for years, even as caseloads skyrocketed.
In 2011, when Osgood said understaffing made it difficult for detectives to thoroughly investigate cases, a deputy commissioner responded that the SVD “did not have to investigate every misdemeanor [sex crime].” In 2017, there were 67 detectives assigned to investigate 5,661 adult sex crimes. For comparison, the city’s homicide squads had 101 detectives assigned to investigate 282 homicides in 2017.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke in the Justice Department’s statement.
This story is breaking and may be updated.