Report: NYPD Has Systematically Undercounted Rapes In NYC For Years

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the NYPD's graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden
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Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the NYPD's graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock

A new analysis of city crime stats has found that the NYPD systematically undercounted rape statistics for the last seven years.

According to data obtained by the E.W. Scripps Company, the department has long failed to include instances of forced oral and anal penetration in its public accounting of rapes. While the DOJ expanded their definition of rape to include those crimes in 2012, and the state of New York subsequently instructed police departments to follow the federal guidelines, the NYPD's crime-tracking database has continued to restrict the classification to include only instances of forced vaginal penetration.

As a result of this discrepancy, the police department has underreported rapes by 38 percent over a recent four-and-a-half period, according to an analysis by Newsy, a news network owned by Scripps.

Notably, the NYPD was aware of rape statistics under the expanded definition, which they provided to the FBI as legally required. But publicly, the department has continued to use the more narrow set of data. During the four-and-a-half year span analyzed by Newsy, police officials told the public there were 6,626 rapes, while at the same time reporting 10,649 instances of the crime to the federal government.

According to criminal justice advocates, the inconsistency in the data is just the latest example of the NYPD not prioritizing rape cases. Last year, a scathing report from the Department of Investigation found significant staffing shortages and dysfunction inside the NYPD's Special Victims Division: a total of 67 detectives were assigned to investigate 5,661 sex crimes, compared to 101 detectives on the city's homicide squad looking at 282 homicides. Members of the unit said they were instructed to "simply not investigate all misdemeanor sexual assaults," and that a backlog of 1,400 crimes with DNA evidence had not been solved.

The department initially rejected these findings, though the head of the SVD, Deputy Chief Michael Osgood, was later transferred. Recent attempts at reform have resulted in NYPD brass reassigning sex crimes detectives and liquidating units, much to the frustration of victims.

The lack of resources to investigate sex crimes, advocates say, is one reason for New York City's unusually high rate of prematurely closed rape cases.

"When the [Special Victims Division] does investigate rapes, they do it poorly," Rebecca Kavanagh, a public defender who also works for the nonprofit criminal justice publication The Appeal, told Gothamist. "They prioritize stranger rapes over rapes where the parties know each other. They close rape cases sometimes when the person is still in the hospital immediately after being raped. When the complainant has decided not to cooperate because their experience with their investigators has been so traumatic, they close cases citing an uncooperative complainant."

Further stretching the small sex-crimes unit is the recent increase in reported rapes. While nearly every type of violent crime decreased last year, reported rapes spiked by more than 20 percent in 2018—an uptick that Mayor Bill de Blasio attributed to a cultural shift leading more victims of sexual violence to come forward.

While it's difficult to say for sure what's driving the jump in reports, it stands to reason that the NYPD's undercounting of rape data means that the increase is even larger than previously known. As Kavanagh sees it, the simplest solution—in addition to publicly sharing the accurate data—would be to shift officers away from broken windows policing, and reinvest those resources in investigating rape cases.

"The cost of prosecuting low level offenses is sex crimes that go un-investigated and remain unsolved and a department that is incentivized to lie about its clearance rates for rape," she said.

Gothamist's inquiries to both the NYPD and the Mayor's Office were not returned.

Listen to an interview with the Newsy reporter here:

UPDATE: Following publication of this story, NYPD spokesperson Devora Kaye provided Gothamist with a statement, which reads in part: "The NYPD takes all complaints of any sexual assault extremely seriously and urges anyone who has been a victim to file a complaint so we can conduct a comprehensive investigation, and offer support and services to survivors."

While the department has not followed a state memo directing them to use the expanded definition of rape in public reports, Kaye said that the NYPD's disclosures were within the New York State penal code.

"The Department constantly reassess our existing procedures and in line with that, we are in the process of reviewing our existent protocols," the spokesperson added.

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