Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

The Appeal is back and we’re worker-run.

We’re excited to bring you the fifth edition of our weekly newsletter as we continue to work toward an official relaunch.

Today, we also published our first story in a series of pieces we’ll be publishing in the coming weeks as we continue rebuilding and working toward an official relaunch.

In it, reporter Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg tells the story of Reginald Randolph, a man with a tragic life who has spent over 800 days enduring horrific conditions at the Rikers Island jail complex in NY after stealing cold medicine. Read more here.

Every dollar we raise helps us produce vital journalism. Help us return to publishing full time by donating here.

SUPPORT A WORKER-LED APPEAL DONATE


iStockPhoto

America’s Largest Police Department Is Neglecting Rape Cases

by Meg O’Connor, The Appeal

“I did not expect that I’d be told that even though I was asleep when the assault began, it wasn’t rape because I didn’t fight back,” Jennifer Welch Demski testified before the New York City Council on Oct. 18. “I did not expect to have a sergeant sit across from me and say he has sex with his wife while she’s asleep, and she’s not reporting him for rape.” New York City Police Department officers ultimately classified Demski’s rape as a “dispute.”

Demski was one of many women who recounted their traumatizing experiences reporting sexual assaults to the NYPD’s Special Victims Division (SVD) during an oversight hearing on the troubled department two weeks ago. Another woman, Christine, who used only her first name, testified that after she was drugged and raped last year, investigators closed her case without her knowledge, failed to collect any video evidence, did not interview witnesses, and tried to make her pay $1,000 to get her hair tested for date-rape drugs. Another woman said the SVD detective assigned to her case tricked her into signing a form that closed her case against her will.

The systemic failure of the nation’s largest police department to investigate sexual assault underscores fundamental flaws endemic to American policing. In New York, politicians and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea seem to have largely shrugged at the documented deficiencies of the SVD. They have allowed the unit to continue neglecting and mistreating victims, despite the fact that the NYPD has more than enough resources—a $5.4 billion annual budget and about 50,000 employees—to fix the problem, if they truly wanted to.

But police won’t invest in things they don’t actually care about. And the actions of police departments across the country have made clear that sexual assault is simply not a priority. Police have refused to collect crucial DNA evidence in hundreds of thousands of sexual assault cases. A 2018 report found that police assigned to investigate sexual assault in Austin, Texas, could not even understand lab reports documenting DNA evidence, and often had such a poor understanding of basic female anatomy that one officer said he had to “Google stuff like ‘labia majora.’” In the 1990’s, police in Philadelphia refered to the department’s sex crimes division as the “lying b**** unit.” On many occasions, police have simply decided not to investigate a reported rape—and in doing so, allowed many more women to be raped.

New York City leaders have shown no interest in improving this broken system or building up alternatives. When the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) exposed the rampant dysfunction at the SVD in a 2018 report, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the NYPD (and oversaw a nearly $800 million increase to the department’s budget during his years in office). De Blasio also replaced former Police Commissioner James O’Neill with Shea, who, when he was chief of detectives, ousted longtime SVD Commander Michael Osgood, purportedly in retaliation for cooperating with the DOI inquiry.

While it may seem like a good sign that the City Council held an oversight hearing on the SVD at all, the council held similar hearings in 2019 and 2018 and little has changed. The way advocates and survivors tell it, things have gotten worse.

The DOI report found that NYPD brass had ignored the SVD’s requests for appropriate staffing and resources for years. In 2017, the division had 67 detectives assigned to investigate 5,661 adult sex crimes (about 84 cases per detective per year or between one and two new cases each week). By comparison, the NYPD assigned 101 detectives to investigate 282 homicides that same year (three cases per detective per year). When then-SVD commander Osgood told NYPD leadership that this caseload made it impossible for detectives to investigate all cases they were assigned, an NYPD deputy commissioner responded by saying detectives “did not have to investigate every misdemeanor [sex crime].”

Since the DOI report, the NYPD has changed Special Victims Division leadership twice. The NYPD has said it increased staffing, but in reality it mostly just shuffled people around. Shea notoriously disbanded a handful of important SVD units during a “restructuring” that filled the division with beat cops instead of trained detectives. Victims have subsequently sued the NYPD over its mishandling of sex crimes cases, and have asked the Department of Justice to open a federal investigation into the SVD’s practices.

Testimony from advocates and survivors at the City Council hearing last month makes it clear that the SVD’s problems persist under its latest chief, Michael King. Now advocates want King out. They told the New York Post that he has prioritized filling out paperwork over keeping in touch with victims, and doesn’t interview investigators before they get assigned to the SVD. King’s own commander, Chief of the Department Rodney Harrison, laid into him earlier this month for the SVD’s shoddy paperwork and inadequate training.

So New York City’s SVD is understaffed, poorly trained, and, apparently, full of rude and insensitive detectives. But that’s not because the NYPD doesn’t have the funding or staffing to fix it. Refusing to assign qualified detectives to the Special Victims Division is a policy choice. The NYPD’s $5.4 billion budget is larger than that of some countries. The 255 people currently assigned to the division account for roughly 1 percent of the NYPD’s massive police force. The NYPD has complete and total discretion to assign police officers to investigate crimes with real victims who are asking for help—or to send them out to do nonsense like push subway goers out of stations for telling officers to put on a mask as the subway requires. The choice is the NYPD’s, and by now it’s pretty clear where its priorities lie.


IN THE NEWS

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here!

Security video shows that police lied when they said people on a Pennsylvania commuter train recorded a sexual assault on their cell phones and did nothing to intervene or call 911. Many news outlets ran with the police account of the crime before realizing it wasn’t true. [Rudy Chinchilla / NBC 10 Philadelphia]

Miami’s most infamous cop and former police union boss, Captain Javier Ortiz, just keeps getting his job back. Multiple current and former police officials told Politico they wished Ortiz—who has a history of use-of-force complaints, suspensions, racist statements, and media fiascos—was off the force. But insiders said Ortiz avoids termination due to pro-police state laws and American cops’ culture of lawlessness. [Marc Caputo / Politico]

Another shaken baby syndrome case was tossed out. In 2003, Kim Hoover-Moore was wrongfully convicted in Ohio of shaking to death a baby in her care. This month, she was finally released from prison. [Associated Press] See also: The Appeal’s reporting on SBS.

Alabama executed Willie B. Smith III, who was intellectually disabled, according to his lawyers. During the execution, one of his lawyers raised his fist to the glass that separated Smith from the witnesses. [Kim Chandler / Associated Press]

The Intercept obtained an internal investigation of Efraín Romero de la Rosa’s death in ICE custody that showed staff falsified documents, did not follow their own procedures, and placed him in disciplinary isolation despite his deteriorating mental health. In 2018, Efraín, who had schizophrenia, died by suicide after 21 days in solitary confinement at Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. [José Olivares / The Intercept]

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to give unvaccinated cops $5,000 bonuses to relocate to Florida and join police departments in the Sunshine State. [Andrea Salcedo / Washington Post]

Christina Nance had been missing for nearly two weeks when police said they found her body inside a police van parked outside the Huntsville, Alabama, public safety complex. Members of Nance’s family find her death suspicious and say they want answers. [Derek Hawkins / Washington Post]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

The Appeal in Your Inbox

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.