Victims' Rights Caucus


Panel Seeks More Police Training on Sex Crimes
By JOHN ELIGON, The New York Times

Responding to concerns that sexual assault complaints have been mishandled by the police in New York, a task force appointed by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has recommended new training protocols for officers dealing with sex crime victims.

The task force has called for a video to be shown to officers that emphasizes the Police Departments policies mandating that crime reports be taken, and the procedures and sensitivity required in dealing with victims of sex crimes, said Paul J. Browne, the departments chief spokesman.

The task force, which began its review in April, is also looking at specific cases to check if complaints were handled appropriately by the police. The task force is expected to meet with Mr. Kelly on Thursday to present its initial list of recommendations.

The review was prompted by complaints from sex crime victims and rape treatment counselors, who told police officials that allegations by women who went to the police had been ignored or minimized.

Like all major crimes in New York, the number of episodes classified as rape has declined significantly, down 35.7 percent from 2005 to 2009. Yet since 2005, the number of sex crimes classified as misdemeanors has risen by 6 percent.

At the same time, there has been a sharp increase in the rate at which complaints of forcible rape have been dismissed by the police as false or lacking enough evidence to take to court.

This was just an accumulation of stories: five boroughs, over and over again, said Harriet Lessel, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, an advocacy group for rape crisis programs. It was just sort of like, Wow, something different is going on here. In terms of not taking reports, Id have to say that this seems like the highest number that Ive ever heard.

One common theme among women who have come forward, according to counselors and victims interviewed by The New York Times, is that too many inquiries are being handled by inexperienced patrol officers, not detectives from the Special Victims Division, who have had specialized training in dealing with sex crime cases.

Michael J. Farrell, the Police Departments deputy commissioner for strategic initiatives and a member of the task force, said the situation was unavoidable.

Even though the staffing in Special Victims was increased considerably over the years, there obviously are not sufficient personnel for them to take responsibility for all sex crimes in the city, Mr. Farrell said.

Mr. Kelly and several of his top aides met in April with rape treatment advocates, who laid out their concerns and provided examples of cases they believed the police had mishandled.

Shortly after the meeting, Mr. Kelly impaneled the five-member task force.

In addition to Mr. Farrell, the task force consists of two former sex crime prosecutors who now work for the Police Department, the head of the departments housing bureau, and Denise E. ODonnell, a former state commissioner of criminal justice services.

The group has interviewed sex crime prosecutors, social workers and police investigators, and is reviewing all relevant police training as well as the staffing needs of the Special Victims Division and which cases it handles, Mr. Browne said.

Since February, police officials have been auditing several sex crime categories to check for accurate classifications, Mr. Farrell said. Of the more than 700 sex crime complaints reviewed so far, Mr. Browne said, 7 have been reclassified.

Mr. Farrell said there could be legitimate differences of opinion about how a complaint should be classified.

We want the classification to be the crime thats spelled out, he said, not to simply sh