Feds open sweeping probe into work of NYPD sex crimes unit

NEW YORK — The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the New York Police Department’s treatment of sex crime victims after concluding there is “significant justification” to do so and after receiving reports of deficiencies for more than a decade, prosecutors said Thursday.

Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and two U.S. attorneys in New York announced the probe in a release, saying they will thoroughly review the department’s Special Victims Division to gauge whether it engages in a pattern of gender-biased policing.

Justice Department officials said they will be reaching out to community groups and the public to learn about their interactions with the division.

They said the probe will include a comprehensive review of the police department’s policies, procedures and training for investigations of sexual assault crimes by the unit, including how it interacts with survivors and witnesses and how it collects evidences and completes investigations.

They said they also want to see what steps the police department has taken to address deficiencies in its handling of sexual assault crimes, including its staffing and the services and support it offer sexual assault survivors.

U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said the NYPD has already taken steps to address concerns, but authorities want to ensure sex assault victims are treated fair in the future.

“Survivors of sexual assault should expect effective, trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations by police departments,” Clarke said. “Based on information provided to the Justice Department, we find significant justification to investigate whether the NYPD’s Special Victims Division engages in a pattern or practice of gender-biased policing.”

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in Manhattan said sex crimes victims “deserve the same rigorous and unbiased investigations of their cases that the NYPD affords to other categories of crime.”

“Likewise,” he added, ”relentless and effective pursuit of perpetrators of sexual violence, unburdened by gender stereotypes or differential treatment, is essential to public safety.”

A message seeking comment was left with the NYPD.

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