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Feds launch probe into reports of NYPD bias against sex assault victims

Officers in the Special Victims Division have been accused of ignoring basic investigative practices and shaming abuse survivors.

(CN) — The Justice Department announced a civil rights investigation Thursday into the New York Police Department amid reports that officers have been shaming and retraumatizing sexual assault victims. 

Years-old allegations of so-called "gender-biased policing" have prompted a federal pattern-or-practice probe into the NYPD Special Victims Division, according to Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace. 

“Over the last several months, we have learned concerning information from a variety of sources of historical issues about the way the Special Victims Division has conducted its investigations for many years,” Peace said in a statement on Thursday. 

Reports of SVD officers ignoring basic investigative practices and “instead shaming and abusing survivors and re-traumatizing them during investigations” are some of the so-called “deficiencies” that the DOJ claims have “persisted for more than a decade.” 

Federal investigators will assess the the SVD's policies for investigations of sexual assault crimes and reach out to the public and community groups "to learn about their experiences with SVD" as part of the probe, according to Peace.

“Our review is intended to ensure that, going forward, survivors of sexual assault in New York City receive fair and just treatment in the criminal justice system, and as a result, those who engage in sexual violence are held accountable,” he said. 

The civil investigation will be conducted under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which bars state and local government agencies from taking away individuals’ constitutional and federal rights.  

If the department determines there is pattern or practice of gender-biased policing within the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, officials can issue public findings, recommend reforms and sue to ensure those changes are made through a federal consent decree. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell and NYC Corporation Counsel Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix are all planning to cooperate with the investigation, the Justice Department said. 

Thursday’s announcement comes three weeks after the DOJ opened a civil rights pattern-or-practice investigation into Louisiana State Police. Last month, the department updated its guidance on improving law enforcement response to sexual assault and domestic violence. 

NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. 

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