Recent comments by an NYPD precinct commander regarding rapes in his precinct, for which he has already publicly apologized, were certainly insensitive.
He tried to draw a distinction between victims raped by strangers and those raped by people known to them. That left the misleading and inaccurate impression that the NYPD treats these types of cases differently, when taking reports, interviewing victims, conducting investigations or apprehending perpetrators. We do not, as either a matter of policy or practice.
The NYPD takes rape and sexual assault seriously, and we investigate every report thoroughly. It is often hard enough for victims of these heinous crimes to come forward to report the assaults; we want them to know that we are here to support them in every way possible. We’re making it easier to report, training officers in victim-sensitive responses, promoting transparency about our work and providing precinct-based victim assistance.
We know from national surveys that only a fraction of rape victims report these crimes to the police. In fact, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s latest National Crime Victimization Survey, while 62% of robberies and aggravated assaults were reported to the police, only 32% of rapes were reported.
In response, during the past three years, the NYPD has taken a number of steps to encourage reporting. We have collaborated with victim advocates and prosecutors on Sexual Assault Task Forces in all five boroughs to create a pamphlet that explains what sexual assault is, how to report it and where to get assistance. We’ve distributed thousands of copies to hospitals and community-based victim service providers. Recently, we began leafletting subway riders to explain how they can report any level of sexual misconduct.
To reach college students, we partnered with the New York City Police Foundation to sponsor annual poster contests for students to encourage their peers to report. We’ve also negotiated new agreements with local colleges to reinforce their legal obligation to report to the police a rape that occurred on campus within 24 hours, unless the victim does not want to report it to the police. And, to make it less burdensome to report, we’ve created a special hotline so that victims of rape or sexual assault can call the NYPD Special Victims Division directly.
We know that responding effectively and sensitively to sexual assault reports requires special skills. We asked the nonprofit Hollaback to train our transit officers how to recognize and respond to different kinds of sexual misconduct. This year, we also brought in a team of nationally respected psychologists, neurobiologists, and victim advocates to provide new, state-of-the-art training for every special victims investigator on how to interview victims effectively, helping them remember and recount the details of the crime, without creating additional stress.
In addition, we have created a new level of transparency regarding the incidence of sexual assault in New York City. Last year we launched CompStat 2.0, an interactive website with a summary of all major crime complaint reports, including those for rape. For the first time, the public can easily access information about when a rape was reported, where it occurred and whether it was committed by a stranger or someone known to the victim.
We are also improving transparency regarding our investigations of these crimes. In the spring, victim-service providers will begin to perform semiannual reviews of sample investigative files from closed NYPD rape cases. Our hope is that careful analysis will deepen understanding on both sides of the table. Advocates will be better able to explain our investigative process to victims, and we will be able to develop potential ways to assist in our investigations.
Finally, as part of our neighborhood policing strategy, the NYPD is doing everything we can to assist victims of crime. We recently partnered with Safe Horizon to launch the Crime Victim Assistance Program . Now in 26 precincts, the program will place two victim advocates in virtually every precinct and Housing Bureau police service area in the city by the end of 2018. If sexual assault victims are hesitant to report, need counseling or other services, or have questions regarding compensation for crime-related expenses or about the criminal justice process, they will only have to call or visit their police precinct to speak with a trained victim advocate.
Our goals are simple. We want to keep victims safe, hold offenders accountable for their actions, and prevent further crime.
At the NYPD, we strive to treat all victims with the level of dignity and respect they deserve.
O’Neill is the commissioner of the NYPD.