New NYPD Commissioner Must Prioritize Sex Crimes

Press Releases / December 15, 2021

Mayor-Elect Adams Names First Woman Commissioner

Latest survey shows NYPD Special Victims Division gets failing grades

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New York, NY — When she is sworn in as the 45th NYPD Commissioner next month, Keechant Sewell will make history as the first woman to ascend to the top job.

“The prospect of a woman leading the NYPD brings the opportunity for dynamic positive change,” said Sonia Ossorio, Executive Director of the National Organization for Women. “Especially in changing culture and in thinking expansively on how to keep women safe, and that’s by boosting resources, staffing, training, and oversight in the Special Victims Division.”

In addition to being the first woman commissioner, Sewell will be the first Black commissioner in three decades. She’ll take the helm of the largest and oldest municipal police department in the country, at a time when serious crime has skyrocketed, from gun violence to gender-based violence.

Gender-based violence is at an all-time high. Domestic violence accounts for two in five felony assaults and one in five homicides — and that’s just among reported cases. Incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment often go under reported, under investigated and under prosecuted, creating a criminal justice system that fails victims too often.

“As the top law enforcement leader in the city, Sewell has an opportunity to make real change in addressing the crisis of violence that women face every day. We believe she has the track record of success and the will to change this trajectory,” Ossorio said.

That starts with the Special Victims Division (SVD), which has been embroiled in controversy over continued mismanagement and its documented track record of inconsistency, high turnover, ineffective investigations, and insensitive treatment of victims, as recently highlighted in NYC City Council hearings chaired by Council Member Adrienne Adams.

“In October, the joint hearing by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on Women and Gender Equity revealed the repeated shortcomings of the NYPD’s Special Victims Division. We heard heartbreaking accounts from sexual assault survivors about their distressing experiences, underscoring the need for dramatic change within this unit,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “As the new administration kicks off with a woman leading the NYPD for the first time, I hope we will work together to bring about the needed reforms and support survivors of domestic violence, sexual crimes, and human trafficking the way they deserve.”

In 2018, the Department of Investigations issued a report in which the central finding was that the “NYPD has routinely understaffed and neglected its Special Victims Division.” This year sex crime survivors in NYC asked the DOJ to initiate an investigation into the NYPD’s mishandling of sex crime cases.

In a survey conducted by NOW-NYC and Women’s Justice NOW of direct service providers who work with about 5,000 sex assault survivors across all boroughs annually, not one provider said that SVD handles cases of sexual assault or rape well most of the time, and the majority responded that the quality of SVD investigations varies widely.

“I suspect Keechant Sewell is not someone who is satisfied with mediocrity. We look forward to sitting at the table with her and helping her build a track record of success that leads to a world-class Special Victims Division.” Ossorio said.

NOW-NYC advocates for laws that defend our rights and break barriers for women and girls. We work to advance economic opportunity and fairness in the workplace, protect and expand reproductive rights, and strengthen our criminal justice system for victims of gender-based violence.

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