- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Police Department’s special victims division, tasked with investigating rape allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein and many other cases, is chronically understaffed and many sexual assault cases are not properly reviewed, according to a report Tuesday by a city watchdog agency.

There were 67 detectives for a crushing caseload of 5,661 suspected attacks last year, according to the report. In comparison, NYPD homicide squads had 101 detectives for 282 cases in 2017.

The lack of manpower has meant that the bulk of assaults are handled by precinct detectives with less training and experience dealing with victims, according to the Department of Investigation report.

“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 says.

Police officials strongly disputed the findings of the report, including the number of detectives assigned to the sex assault cases - they said there were 85 detectives not 67.

And the average caseload is 62 cases per investigator in 2017 compared with the 150 to 175 of a precinct detective, police officials said.

They said the watchdog group didn’t take into account comments, suggestions and errors the department pointed out. Officials also took issue with how the division was portrayed.

“Our special victims unit is universally recognized as the premiere special victims unit in the world … definitely in the country,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

DOI investigators found that the sex crimes caseload has increased by 65 percent since 2009, but staffing levels were nearly unchanged. As a result, police prioritize stranger rapes while sexual assaults committed by acquaintances receive less attention. Some lower-level cases are referred to local precincts and are not handled by specialized detectives at all, the report said.

But police officials said all rape investigations are treated with care regardless of the implications in the report.

“Each complaint of rape we take seriously, and we fully investigate each one,” O’Neill said.

The findings were based on internal documents and interviews with former members of the division, plus prosecutors and victim advocates. The review began early last year, before the allegations against Weinstein broke last fall.

Weinstein’s attorneys have said he denies any non-consensual sexual contact with anyone.

Department memos included in the report show the special victims chief, Michael Osgood, had been asking for more staff for at least four years, and also requested more training for detectives assigned to the division and recommended starting a cold case squad.

The department of investigation recommended doubling the number of detectives, and repairing facilities to make victims more comfortable.

Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW-NYC, said the findings were not surprising and changes must be made.

“There are some great detectives in NYPD Special Victims, but there are far too few of them and every victim in New York City deserves the best,” Ossorio said in a statement. “There’s still a long way to go before victims can have full confidence that those who are entrusted to protect the public from sexual predators are swiftly brought to justice and the victims of their crimes will be met with respect, compassion and urgency.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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