Police Accountability

Justice Department Launches Investigation into NYPD’s Troubled Special Victims Division

The probe will assess whether the SVD engages in a “pattern or practice of gender-biased policing," according to the DOJ.
John Angel/Unsplash

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.

In November 2018, Osgood was reassigned to a patrol borough in Staten Island. One week later, he retired.

“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.

Meg O'Connor
Meg O’Connor

Meg O’Connor is a senior reporter for The Appeal. She covers police, prisons, and prosecutors. She previously worked for Phoenix New Times and Miami New Times, where her work drew national scrutiny to local police departments and led to the firing of five officers who had committed egregious misconduct. In Miami, she wrote a series of articles showing Miami police had failed to adhere to a new law allowing officers to hand out tickets in lieu of arrest for minor marijuana possession. The series led Miami’s police chief to begin a civil citation program and won the Florida Press Association’s Claudia Ross Memorial Award for investigative reporting, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s David Carr Award for investigative reporting, and the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for in-depth reporting.

1 comment

  1. Jimmy Carter: “[The US] is just an oligarchy, with unlimited money being the essence….”

    SVD can’t both be lacking staff, and, have officers and sergeants that steal time and drink on the job. They can’t intimidate victims into closing their cases, ignore credible complaints and threats to women and children, and, be overworked.

    Clearly, it’s the same problem with so-called police forces world wide: they think they are ‘members’ of an elite club. They aren’t loyal to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or any of the laws and regulations based on them. They aren’t ‘members’ of anything but another arrogant gang. Once again, police gangs only serve the rich and powerful, whites, and cute women who might just bang them.

    William Casey (CIA Director 1981-1987): “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”
    I’m looking at you, Law & Order: SVU.

    No one should trust or respect US police gangs.

    H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956): “The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

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