While sex crimes have seen a slight decrease in August citywide, more people are reporting them in the #MeToo era and new laws like the Child Victims Act that extends the timeframe for sufferers of sexual abuse to come forward have resulted in more claims against perpetrators in Queens and throughout the city.
As a response, the NYPD has committed itself to take a stronger stance by renovating and creating new Special Victims Division facilities that are victim-centered in each borough.
“The significant facility improvements, increased staffing, enhanced training and new leadership within our Special Victims Division amplify our ability to respond effectively to survivors of all crimes while continuing to conduct thorough and victim-centered investigations,” said Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill.
Improvements to the Queens Special Victims Squad located in Forest Hills at 68-40 Austin St. are underway and the department is also actively searching for a new squad location, according to NYPD.
The changes and additions to the SVDs throughout the city come courtesy of Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, a Queens native and the newly appointed commanding officer of the Special Victims Division, who is less than a year into her tenure in her role since being tapped for the position in November 2018.
“Our renovated Special Victims Division facilities don’t look like traditional police offices; there are comfortable couches and play areas for children, natural light and art on the walls,” said Harrison. “This wraparound approach matters for survivors’ well-being and we are committed to doing anything and everything to bring justice to the brave survivors that come forward.”
The SVDs will have more investigators, caseloads will decrease among detectives and moving forward every detective in the unit will have state-of-the-art training as they investigate and handle cases with sexual assault survivors, according to the NYPD.
Officers will have more trauma-informed and empathy-based training and there will be mandatory training on how to be victim-centered in their response to sex crimes to prepare them on using those skills when on the scene of a crime, according to the NYPD.
“My mission has been to create a victim-centered approach to sexual assault investigations from the survivor’s first encounter with the police and at each step through the investigation. We have added investigators, ensured the highest quality trauma-informed, empathy-based training and a critical part of this work is creating welcoming facilities designed with the survivor in mind,” said Harrison.
In April, the SVDs in Brooklyn and the Bronx had their renovations completed in to be more welcoming to sexual abuse survivors, and more spacious for both investigators and survivors, according to the NYPD. The former facility also includes a child-friendly space, and the latter has a Safe Horizon advocate.
In August, the Manhattan facility had work completed on an additional floor, and has a child-friendly space, a Safe Horizon advocate, more workspace for investigators, more interview rooms for survivors and is currently being designed to be more aesthetically pleasing to victims, according to the NYPD. A Staten Island facility is currently being constructed and is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, and will have similar features to the Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx facilities. Dates and upgrades for the Queens facility have yet to be announced.
“The NYPD remains deeply committed to ensuring survivors feel the safety and support needed to come forward, bravely share their experiences, and help the NYPD bring to justice those who have committed these horrific crimes,” said O’Neill.