With sex crimes, NYPD moves to ‘victim-centered’ approach


The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Two of the most concrete changes to the New York Police Department’s evolving approach to sex crimes sit some 20 feet apart, flanking the lobby of a century-old Bronx police station that was known in the neighborhood’s more turbulent years as “Fort Apache.”

The first is a new waiting room, furnished with couches, children’s toys and a radio playing soothing music. It’s designed to give victims of sexual violence a momentary oasis, away from the building’s usual hustle and bustle, before they meet with investigators.

The second is a private interview room where detectives from the department’s revamped Special Victims Division can meet one-on-one with victims, giving them more privacy than where they often used to meet: the detective’s desk in the middle of a noisy squad room.

“When you come into this space, it doesn’t feel police-y, for lack of a better word,” Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, the commander of the Special Victims Division, said in a recent interview. “It doesn’t feel like your typical police station. It’s a comfortable space.”

The physical changes, along with a beefed up and retrained staff and a shift this week in how rape statistics are reported to the public, are part of the police department’s embrace of what Harrison calls a “victim-centered” approach on sex crimes.

That means conducting an accurate, thorough investigation and arresting perpetrators, Harrison said, but also helping victims with counseling and other services that can help them get their lives back on track and give them some of the control that has been taken from them.

It also means starting off by believing victims, using interview techniques that are meant to be more compassionate and understanding than typical questioning, and allowing victims to move through investigations at their own pace, Harrison said.

If a victim doesn’t want to meet with detectives on a particular day to look at mugshots, detectives won’t pressure a victim to do so, Harrison said. Instead, they can pivot to other investigative work, such as reviewing DNA testing results, finding potential video evidence or interviewing other witnesses.

“The focus has to be on the survivor,” she said. “The survivor is coming forward to report what is probably the most heinous thing that’s happened to them. The worst thing that’s happened to them. And when they’re coming forward to report, they’re showing a tremendous amount of strength and a tremendous amount of courage.”

Carrie Goldberg, a New York City lawyer representing victims of sexual violence, applauded the new approach.

“Just two days ago, we had a two-hour long client interview with an amazing detective from the SVD and our client, a rape victim, felt heard and seen,” Goldberg said.

By Patricia Older

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