By Victoria Merlino
City Councilmember Rory Lancman, a candidate for Queens District Attorney, called for an investigation to determine why the NYPD is closing rape cases without proper investigations in response to a report by the criminal justice news website The Appeal.
In Queens in 2015, 27 percent of reported rapes were deemed “unfounded,” or did not happen, The Appeal reported on Monday
“It is alarming that the NYPD is declaring so many rape allegations in Queens as ‘unfounded,’ seemingly in many cases without doing a thorough investigation, at rates substantially higher than the rest of the city, and far beyond percentages reported across the country,” Lancman said in a statement. “This indifference to victims and the safety of the broader public demands investigation, as these statistics should have sent alarm bells ringing throughout law enforcement.”
Multiple victims of rape told The Appeal they were pressured to sign withdrawal forms without proper explanation from law enforcement. By signing the forms, they unknowingly deemed themselves “uncooperative.” In 2016, the article reported, 1,551 cases were closed citywide based on the uncooperative complainant code.
“This is just another concerning issue of how the NYPD is failing sexual assault victims,” National Organization of Women-NYC president Sonia Ossorio told the Eagle. “More resources need to be put into the department to meet the demand of rape reports that are coming in.”
In March, the Department of Investigations (DOI) released a report that found that the NYPD’s Special Victims Division (SVD) has been understaffed for at least the past nine years and unable to handle the caseload.
According to the DOI report, the NYPD’s homicide squad had 101 detectives to handle 282 homicides in 2017, but the SVD had 67 detectives to handle 5,661 sexual assault cases that year.
“Current and former SVD staff, sex crime prosecutors, service providers, and victims’ advocates all confirmed to DOI that chronic understaffing and inexperience have ‘diluted’ and ‘shortened’ investigations, jeopardized prosecutions, re-traumatized victims, and negatively impacted the reporting of sex crimes, thereby adversely affecting public safety,” the report read.
DOI recommended that SVD add more staff members, increase training opportunities and investigate rapes that were deemed lower priority, such as “domestic rape” and acquaintance rape.” The report found that understaffing can push those types cases to the precinct level, where detectives are not trained in sex crimes investigations.
“That DOI report aligned strikingly with the demands that advocates had made to the police commissioner,” Ossorio said. “When we saw the report, it validated everything that we had been seeing.”
Ossorio said NOW called on the mayor to address the issue.
The NYPD restructured the SVD following the DOI report and received a new division head.
The NYPD told The Appeal that the new deputy chief of the division is reviewing procedures and will make changes to the withdrawal form.
Lancman has crusaded against sex crimes in the past, notably introducing the City Council bill that outlawed “revenge porn,” or the sharing of explicit photos or video of someone online without their consent, in New York City.