What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White
What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White
Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.
This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.
BA.5 is leading another wave of COVID-19 cases, as well as a rise in hospitalizations. The subvariant of omicron is extremely contagious and is causing more reinfections in people who've already been sick with COVID-19, including during earlier omicron waves.
While it's possible new research could come out and prove that BA.5 makes some tests less effective at picking up positive COVID-19 cases, the rapid tests seem to be doing their jobs. Here's what to know.
How do home COVID tests work?
At-home COVID-19 tests are usually rapid antigen tests, which work by identifying proteins in the coronavirus. If the proteins are present in your nose when you swab it, there will be a second line on your test, and you should consider yourself positive and contagious with COVID-19. This is similar to how a home pregnancy test works, but pregnancy tests pick up the presence of a hormone instead of a virus. (And pregnancy isn't contagious, of course.)
"Positive results remain highly accurate for these tests, though there still can be false negatives," Shaili Gandhi, vice president of pharmacy at SingleCare, said in an email. This is because it takes a higher amount of virus to test positive on a rapid test than the highly sensitive PCR or lab-based tests. Someone who's fully vaccinated and boosted, for example, may have a very low viral load (smaller amount of virus) and that may mean they test negative even if they do have COVID-19. If that's the case, you might need a lab-based PCR test before COVID-19 is confirmed. (That doesn't mean you shouldn't use a home test if you're boosted, though, but more on that below.)
Do home tests work against BA.5? When's the best time to test?
Research continues on BA.5, which includes how effective tests are at detecting it, according to Gandhi. But how well the home COVID-19 tests work may have less to do with the subvariant and more to do with when you test.
You're most likely to test positive for COVID-19 when you have symptoms. Similarly, asymptomatic people or someone with mild symptoms might be more likely to have a false negative result than someone who has a lot of symptoms.
"Under these conditions, at-home tests are as effective at detecting omicron as with other variants," Sandra Adams, a professor of biology and virologist at Montclair State University, told New Jersey Advance Media.
"The accuracy varies with when the tests are taken," she added.
Gandhi said a "good rule of thumb" is to take at least two tests, with a day or two between tests. You should also follow the instructions on whatever box you have, which often comes as a pack of two tests, and stay up-to-date on the US Food and Drug Administration's extension of the shelf lives of some home tests.
And, if there are home tests discovered to not work against BA.5, the FDA will remove its authorization of that particular test.
"The FDA would know if there are performance concerns because they continue to monitor all authorized tests and scientific evidence over a period of time in the event that they need to make changes," Dr. Mark Fischer, Regional Medical Director at International SOS, said in an email.
What's BA.5's incubation period?
At the beginning of the omicron surge in December last year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its quarantine guidance based on the understanding people were most contagious with COVID-19 in the one or two days before they developed symptoms, and two to three days after.
While some research suggests BA.5 doesn't have a different incubation period than other versions of COVID-19, some people are reporting testing positive for longer, Gandhi notes. Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, noted in a report earlier this month that changes in BA.5 that make it easier to get into cells may explain why some people are taking a long time to test negative.
"For now, while this new variant is still elusive, I recommend testing multiple times with at-home tests, and if symptoms persist [and you're still testing negative], get a PCR test from your pharmacy or doctor," Gandhi said.
Correction at 8:03 a.m. PT July 26: The spelling of Shaili Gandhi's last name has been fixed.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.“
“Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) talks on the phone as he heads to a meeting with members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 21. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
The Department of Homeland Security’s chief watchdog scrapped its investigative team’s effort to collect agency phones to try to recover deleted Secret Service texts this year, according to four people with knowledge of the decision and internal records reviewed by The Washington Post.
In early February, after learning that the Secret Service’s text messages had been erased as part of a migration to new devices, staff at Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari’s office planned to contact all DHS agencies offering to have data specialists help retrieve messages from their phones, according to two government whistleblowers who provided reports to Congress.
But later that month, Cuffari’s office decided it would not collect or review any agency phones,according to three people briefed on the decision.
The latest revelation comes as Democratic lawmakers have accused Cuffari’s office of failing to aggressively investigate the agency’s actions in response to the violent attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021.
Cuffari wrote a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security committees this month saying the Secret Service’s text messages from the time of the attack had been “erased.” But he did not immediately disclose that his office first discovered that deletion in December and failed to alert lawmakers or examine the phones. Nor did he alert Congress that other text messages were missing, including those of the two top Trump appointees running the Department of Homeland Security during the final days of the administration.
Late Friday night, Cuffari’s spokesman issued a statement declining to comment on the new discovery.
“To preserve the integrity of our work and consistent with U.S. Attorney General guidelines, DHS OIG does not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about ongoing reviews or criminal investigations, nor do we discuss our communications with Congress,” the statement read.
Cuffari, a former adviser to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), has been in his post since July 2019 after being nominated by Trump.
DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa said the agency is cooperating with investigators and “looking into every avenue to recover text messages and other materials for the Jan. 6 investigations.”
After discovering that some of the text messages the watchdog sought had been deleted, the Federal Protective Service, a DHS agency that guards federal buildings, offered their phones to the inspector general’s investigators, saying they lacked the resources to recover lost texts and other records on their own, according to three people familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation.
A senior forensics analyst in the inspector general’s office took steps to collect the Federal Protective Service phones, the people said. But late on the night of Friday, Feb. 18, one of several deputies who report to Cuffari’s management team wrote an email to investigators instructing them not to take the phones and not to seek any data from them, according to a copy of an internal record that was shared with The Post.
Staff investigators also drafted a letter in late January and early February to all DHS agencies offering to help recover any text messages or other data that might have been lost. But Cuffari’s management teamlater changed that draft to say that if agencies could not retrieve phone messages for the Jan. 6 period, they “should provide a detailed list of unavailable data and the reason the information is unavailable,” the three people said.
Cuffari also learned in late February that text messages for the top two officials at DHS under the Trump administration on the day of the attack were missing, lost in a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021, according to an internal record obtained by the Project on Government Oversight. But Cuffari did not press the department’s leadership to explain why they did not preserve these records, nor try to recover them, according to the four people briefed on the watchdog’s actions. Cuffari also did not alert Congress to the missing records.
These and other discrepancies prompted key Democrats scrutinizing the attack and the Department of Homeland Security to issue a subpoena to the Secret Service and to call for Cuffari to recuse himself from the investigation.
Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the committee that oversees inspectors general, said in a letter to Cuffari on Tuesday that they “do not have confidence” that he can conduct the investigation.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Friday calling the missing messages “an extremely serious matter” and said he would ask the Justice Department to intervene.
“Inspector General Cuffari’s failure to take immediate action upon learning that these text messages had been deleted makes clear that he should no longer be entrusted with this investigation,” Durbin said in a statement. “That’s why I’m sending a letter today to Attorney General Garland asking him to step in and get to the bottom of what happened to these text messages and hold accountable those who are responsible.”
Cuffari was asked to answer the lawmakers by Aug. 9.
Cuffari opened a criminal investigation into the Secret Service’s missing text messages this month, one of dozens of inquiries his office does as part of its work overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, the nation’s third-largest agency. Many, including Democrats in Congress, viewed the timing and motive for the inquiry with suspicion, as Cuffari had not pushed to probe the fact that the records were deleted when he first learned of it months earlier. DHS encompasses agencies such as the Secret Service, the Federal Protective Service and immigration and border protection.
Three people briefed on his handling of the missing text messages painted a portrait of an office that faltered over how to handle the matter, even though they had highly skilled officials ready to attack the issue and federal agencies willing to cooperate.
A former senior executive at the inspector general’s office who left the agency this year said Cuffari’s office instructed the executive to call the agency’s top forensic expert on a Saturday early this year to tell him to “stand down” on pursuing the forensics work for the Secret Service’s phones.
“That was done at the direction of the inspector general’s front office,” the former senior executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are no longer at the office.
Cuffari’s office has continued to issue reports and, on the day the lawmakers called for him to step aside, tweeted about awards that they had won for inspections. The awards are from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an independent executive agency that supports inspectors general.
In their letter, Thompson and Maloney asked the council to find a replacement for Cuffari on the investigation into the missing Secret Service texts.
The council said it could only help find a replacement if Cuffari decided to recuse himself and asked them for assistance finding a replacement, its executive director, Alan F. Boehm, said in an email.
Cuffari sent a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security committees this month accusing the Secret Service of erasing text messages from the time around the assault on the Capitol and after he had asked for them for his own investigation.
The Secret Service denied maliciously erasing text messages and said the deletions were part of a preplanned “system migration” of its phones. They said none of the texts Cuffari’s office sought had disappeared.
The Federal Records Act and other laws require federal agencies to preserve government records, and it is a crime, punishable by fines and prison time, to willfully destroy government records.
In addition to the Secret Service, text messages for Trump acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli are missing for a key period leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, according to four people briefed on the matter and internal emails.
But Cuccinelli and Wolf both said they turned in their phones, as Wolf put it in a tweet, “fully loaded,” and said it was up to DHS to preserve their messages.
On Twitter, Wolf wrote: “I complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment fully loaded to the Department. Full stop. DHS has all my texts, emails, phone logs, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data needs to be addressed to DHS.”
Cuccinelli, also on Twitter, said he handed in his phone before departing DHS and suggested that the agency “erased” his phone after he left.
The National Archives and Records Administration has sought more information on “the potential unauthorized deletion” of Secret Service text messages, but that inquiry could be delayed by Cuffari’s criminal investigation into the agency. The archives had no immediate comment Friday about Wolf and Cuccinelli’s text messages.“
Cybersecurity experts and former government leaders are stunned by how poorly the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security handled the preservation of officials’ text messages and other data from around Jan. 6, 2021, saying the top agencies entrusted with fighting cybercrime should never have bungled the simple task of backing up agents’ phones.
Experts are divided over whether the disappearance of phone data from around the time of the insurrection is a sign of incompetence, an intentional coverup, or some murkier middle ground. But the failure has raised suspicions about the disposition of records that could provide intimate details about what happened on that chaotic day, and whose preservation was mandated by federal law.
“This was the most singularly stressful day for the Secret Service since the attempted assassination of [Ronald] Reagan,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior policy official at the Department of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration who’s now a cybersecurity consultant in Washington. “Why apparently was there no interest in preserving records for the purposes of doing an after-action review? It’s like we have a 9/11 attack and air traffic control wipes its records.”
Rosenzweig said he polled 11 of his friends with cybersecurity backgrounds, including information-security chiefs at federal agencies, on whether any of them had ever done a migration without a plan for backing up data and restoring it. None of them had. “There’s a relatively high degree of skepticism about [the Secret Service] in the group,” he said.
The Secret Service said it began deleting data from officials’ phones in the same month as the Capitol siege, when its agents were among the closest eyewitnesses both to President Donald Trump, now under criminal investigationfor his push to overturn the election, and to Vice President Mike Pence, who had narrowly escaped the mob.
The agency said the deletions were part of a preplanned “system migration,” that agents had been instructed to back up their own phones, and that any “insinuation” of malicious intent is wrong.
But tech experts said such a migration is a task that smaller organizations routinely accomplish without error. The agency also went through with its reset of the phones more than a week after Jan. 16, 2021, when House committees told officials at DHS to hand over all relevant “documents or materials” as part of their investigations into the deadly assault.
The error likely means that the information, which could reveal details critical to the Jan. 6 committee’s ongoing investigation, may be extremely challenging if not impossible to retrieve. Some of the data may remain on the phones, even after deletion, but with options for unlocking it that are slim to none.
If the Secret Service had truly wanted to preserve agents’ messages, experts said, it should have been almost trivially easy to do so. Backups and exports are a basic feature of nearly every messaging service, and federal law requires such records to be safeguarded and submitted to the National Archives.
Several experts were critical of the Secret Service’s explanation that it had asked agents to upload their own phone data to an agency drive before their phones were wiped. Cybersecurity professionals said that policy was “highly unusual,” “ludicrous,” a “failure of management” and “not something any other organization would ever do.”
The error is especially notable because of the Secret Service’s vaunted role in the federal bureaucracy. Besides protecting America’s most powerful people, the agency leads some of the government’s most technically sophisticated investigations of financial fraud, ransomware and cybercrime.
“Telling people to back up their stuff individually just sounds crazy,” said one technology chief interviewed by The Post, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information security practices. “This is why you have IT people. Why not tell people to go buy their own ammunition?”
On Thursday, The Washington Post revealed that phone records from Trump’s acting homeland security secretary, Chad Wolf, and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli in the days leading up to the Capitol riots also apparently vanished due to what internal emails suggested was a “reset” of their phones after they left their jobs in January 2021. Wolf has said he gave his phone to DHS officials with all data intact, and the reset appears to have been separate from the Secret Service’s migration.
Some experts said they could see how such errors were possible. Both the DHS and Secret Service are known for a culture of secrecy, a disdain for oversight and a preference for operational security above all else. Among the potential technical complications, these experts said, was the fact that DHS and Secret Service personnel can use iPhones and Apple’s iMessage for communications, which encrypts texts and stores them on the phone.
But several experts said they could not understand why the agencies had not worked more aggressively to safeguard phone records after Jan. 6 — not only because they were legally required to, but because the information could have helped them scrutinize how they had performed during an attack on the heart of American democracy.
In a letter to the House select committee investigating the insurrection, Secret Service officials said they began planning in the fall of 2020 to move all devices onto Microsoft Intune, a “mobile device management” service, known as an MDM, that companies and other organizations can use to centrally manage their computers and phones.
The agency said it told its personnel on Jan. 25 to back up their phones’ data onto an internal drive, notably offering a “step-by-step” guide, but that employees were ultimately “responsible for appropriately preserving government records that may be created via text messaging.” The Secret Service said agents were told that enrolling their devices in the new system, via a “self-install,” was mandatory, although it was not clear that actually performing the backup was.
The migration, the agency said, began two days later, on Jan. 27 — 11 days after the committee had first instructed DHS officials to preserve their records. Some experts questioned why, even if the process had been preplanned, the agency did not pause the migration or assume a more direct role in preserving agents’ data during that 11-day span.
The Secret Service said that the migration process deleted “data resident on some phones” but that none of the texts that DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari had been seeking were lost.
The agency watchdog had requested all text messages sent and received by 24 Secret Service personnel between Dec. 7, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021. The agency returned only one record — a text message conversation from a former U.S. Capitol Police chief to a former chief of the Secret Service’s Uniformed Division on Jan. 6, asking for help.
Cuffari’s office said last week it has launched a criminal investigation into the missing data. But congressional Democrats have since pushed for Cuffari’s removal, saying the Trump appointee’s failure to promptly alert Congress has undermined the investigation and diminished the chances that lost evidence could be recovered. Cuffari’s office, they said, learned in December that messages had been erased but did not tell Congress until this month.
Cuffari said earlier this month that “many” texts from Jan. 5 and 6 were erased after he made his first request. Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmisaid in a statement that Cuffari’s office made its request for the first time in February 2021, after the migration was underway.
Asked for comment Friday, the Secret Service provided a previously issued statement, saying it was cooperating with the investigation.
Data migrations of these sorts are not uncommon, experts said. One of the basic rules for conducting them is that devices should be backed up with redundant copies in such a way that the process can be reversed if something goes wrong. Microsoft Intune, specifically, offers guides for how to back up devices, restore saved data and move devices onto the service without deleting their data outright.
The baffling decision-making and the timing of the deletions have led some critics to question whether the agencies were seeking to conceal inconvenient facts. The messages, they pointed out, may have shed a negative light on the behavior of Trump, a man whom many in DHS and on the Secret Service had long fought — not just professionally, but personally and politically — to protect.
One former senior government official who served under Trump said they viewed the missing texts not as a conspiracy but as the inevitable result of an organizational failure by DHS to set up systems that would ensure proper data retention on employees’ devices.
The use of iPhones, which prioritize individual users’ privacy over organizations’ ability to centrally manage data, creates challenges for data retention that are solvable through the right practices. But relying on individual Secret Service agents to upload their iMessages, without any other backup system or way to ensure compliance, before permanently wiping their devices suggests that such practices were not in place.
“What they’re doing is they’re shifting the burden to the individual user to do the backup, and that’s a failure of policy and governance,” the former official said. “It’s the overarching program that was set up for failure.”
The former official added that it’s unclear how much, if any, sensitive communication Secret Service agents would have been doing via iMessage anyway. In many government agencies, employees carry personal devices as well as their work devices, and rules about keeping work communications on work devices are not always diligently followed.
The Secret Service blocks its phones from using Apple’s iCloud, a popular service for automatically saving copies of phone data to the web, according to an agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter under investigation.
Using iCloud backups could have ensured that copies of the messages would have been preserved even after a phone reset. But the system could have also been seen as a security risk because it made agents’ digital conversations more vulnerable to hackers or spies.
A former head of technology at another agency within DHS, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe security practices, told The Post that not using iCloud “does come with trade-offs” but could also reduce the need for security officials to “worry about very sensitive data” being exposed.
Agents could have copied data onto an agency backup drive, even without iCloud. But the Secret Service, more than other top security agencies, “tends to want to do their own thing and segment off their IT solutions as much as possible,” the person said. “They have good reason, and the security culture itself is fairly good because of the mission.”
Robert Osgood, director of the computer forensics program at George Mason University and a longtime forensics examiner for the FBI, said federal law enforcement agencies are typically “really good at storing data” and that, under normal circumstances, it would take “a comedy of errors” for an organization such as the Secret Service to delete data critical to a high-profile investigation.
But “a comedy of errors does happen in the government, unfortunately, and happens more times than people think,” Osgood said. Secret Service agents on the president’s security detail, he added, may also face unique incentives to avoid leaving data trails about sensitive matters.
“By the nature of what they do, they can’t be the eyes and ears of Congress or the inspector general or the DOJ, because that would actually interfere with their mission” to maintain the president’s trust and privacy, Osgood said.
Preserving the records could have also been complicated by officials’ choices on how they communicated. It’s unclear how many agents used messaging apps such as Signal or Wickr, which have become popular for their encryption and security protections, or carried personal phones on Jan. 6. One former government official said such behavior is common in DHS, especially within small or select groups such as the presidential and vice-presidential details.
As part of DHS, the Secret Service would have been required to use some form of “mobile device management” service even before the Intune migration, a former FBI cybersecurity agent told The Post.
But the agency has not specified what MDM it migrated from, and each system works in different ways. Some allow for complete access to phone contents by IT administrators, while others permit only a couple of actions, such as deleting or “wiping” data from a device after it has been discontinued. Some MDMs, including Intune, also allow organizations to restrict what apps employees can download to their devices, potentially limiting their options for messaging to officially approved apps.
If the agency had pursued a typical migration process, experts said it would be strange for the agency to have lost data for only some agents, or for more than a day. A veteran data forensics expert at a large consulting firm who was not authorized to speak publicly said it “does sound fishy” that so much data would go missing.
Leaving backups of critical data to individual employees would be an odd choice for an organization’s IT department if the top priority were to make sure nothing was lost, said Paul Bischoff, an online privacy expert at the security firm Comparitech.
“If individual staff members were responsible for backing up and resetting their own devices instead of trained IT staff, I can see a lot of opportunities for user error to crop up,” Bischoff said. “That might result in some data being accidentally lost, or it could just be a convenient alibi.”
It also remains unclear whether the data is gone forever. It is sometimes possible to retrieve data deleted in a factory reset of a phone, depending on how the data was stored, Bischoff said. “Until the old data is actually overwritten with new data, it can remain on disk even after a factory reset and in many cases be recovered using forensic software.” That may not be possible, however, if it was encrypted or overwritten before the reset.
Osgood said he takes the Secret Service at its word that it didn’t intentionally destroy what it should have known could be critical evidence in a historic investigation. But he said its explanations to date leave “more questions than answers.”
“Letters from victims and activists drew the Justice Department’s attention after city and state officials failed to act on the same complaints.
By the time the U.S. Justice Department announced last month that it would investigate the New York Police Department’s handling of sex crimes, rape survivors and victim advocates had spent years pushing city and state officials to act.
In public testimony and private meetings with the Police Department, City Hall and the attorney general’s office, they detailed encounters with investigators in which their experiences were dismissed and their cases fumbled. They gave interviews to city investigators who blamed police leaders in a pivotal report. Some filed a federal lawsuit accusing the police of gender bias. Even Gloria Steinem, the feminist leader, joined a protest at City Hall.
Despite their efforts, no one with power over the department compelled it to fix longstanding problems in the unit responsible for investigating sex crimes, the Special Victims Division. Officials failed to institute uniform policies for handling cases or stabilize the leadership in the unit after a period of turnover.
And they failed to quell the anger of survivors who then turned to the Department of Justice, writing about their grievances and prompting federal prosecutors to take the rare step of investigating the police.
Now, the Police Department could be forced to adopt changes supervised by a federal monitor, an expensive and time-consuming practice that already governs its political surveillance and stop-and-frisk practices.
“We tried all these avenues and we got nowhere,” said Mary Haviland, former executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault and the author of a 12-page letter that advocates sent to the Justice Department last July. “We came to the point of feeling that D.O.J. was our only help.”
The local inertia shows how efforts to hold law enforcement accountable in America’s largest city have stalled since the #MeToo movement prompted the nation to grapple with the pervasiveness of sexual assault. The cases that defined #MeToo largely involved white women leveling accusations against powerful men in prominent industries like film and politics. But in New York, the vast majority of the 8,600 sex crimes reported each year involve Black and Hispanic victims who know their assailants in some way.
The Police Department’s response to those assaults has been “negligent and sexist,” violating the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, 17 survivors and two of their mothers said in a letter to the Justice Department. In her own letter, Gina Tron, 39, described how a stranger lured her to his car after a book club meeting 12 years ago and drove her to his Sunset Park house, where he attacked her. Ms. Tron said a Special Victims detective told her she was wasting his time with an “iffy rape case.”
“The N.Y.P.D. and other officials say what they need to say, what they think that people want to hear, to make it look like they’re doing something,” she said in an interview. “Nothing has changed since I was attacked in 2010.”
Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, is now responsible for delivering change, a test of his will and ability to overcome years of Police Department resistance. And a change that he promised to take seriously.
“We welcome this review,” said Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor, adding that the administration “will cooperate fully in this investigation, and will continue to take all steps necessary to provide justice to victims of sexual assault and fix the problems that have been more than a decade in the making.”
A Troubled Unit
The Special Victims Division was created in 2003 to investigate sex offenses and child abuse as well as monitor sex offenders.But its staffing has stagnated for years.
Victims described how their cases were assigned to officers who did not seem to know how to investigate them or did not care to make the effort, if they had time at all. Some investigators failed to return to crime scenes, collect surveillance video or speak to witnesses. Victims said investigators pressured them to sign forms that prematurely closed cases. Some victims even footed the bill for forensic testing and medical procedures.
Errors by investigators ruined cases, the victims said, an assertion supported by an evaluation conducted last year at the Police Department’s request. Researchers from the firm RTI International found that more than half of sexual assault cases were closed for lack of evidence, despite suspects having been identified in more than 80 percent of reports.
In most cases, the assailant was someone like a boyfriend, co-worker, neighbor or relative. For Meghan G., it was a man she had just met at a bodega who raped her in a Bushwick park in October 2015. (The Times does not identify sex crime victims without their consent, and Meghan, 27, agreed to use part of her name.)
In an interview, she said her memory of that night was hazy because she had been drinking. Case files she obtained suggest that no one made much of an effort to help shed more light on what happened.
A friend who sent Meghan home in a cab was not interviewed, nor was the driver. Surveillance video was not collected. Witnesses who might have heard her screams were not sought.
Instead, Special Victims detectives insisted that Meghan call the perpetrator to see if he would incriminate himself.
The technique, known as a controlled phone call, can be a crucial tool in cases of acquaintance rape, the most common kind, where the central question is not whether sex occurred, but if it was consensual. In practice, however, investigators often do not have experience or time to properly prepare the victim.
Meghan refused the call, and the police closed her case.
A month later, investigators reopened it after a DNA test on the underwear she wore when she was raped. When they contacted her in January, she was 11 weeks pregnant by her rapist and had decided to get an abortion. Moments before her operation, the police asked her to postpone so that they could collect the fetus’s DNA. She reasoned that it would not prove she was raped, and went through with the abortion.
The case was closed again. The police described her in the file as “uncooperative.”
She shared her experience publicly last fall at a City Council hearing, where women who had reported attacks as recently as 2020 recounted similar experiences. Many later spoke to federal prosecutors.
Investigators “continue to act the same with the same results, and they leave behind a trail of victims,” Meghan said in an interview.
The Police Department declined an interview request about the unit’s performance.
“The N.Y.P.D. has made significant improvements to ensure that its investigators provide the best possible service to survivors of sexual assault,” the department’s press office said in a written statement.
A Road Map
The problems burst into public view in 2018, when the inspector general for the Police Department, an office within the city’s investigations agency, released a blistering report blaming police leaders for failing to act on years of warnings that the unit was understaffed and overwhelmed.
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Survivors now saw their cases in the context of systemic failures. Two survivors — one who said she was raped by a boyfriend after declining sex and another who reported being gang-raped by a Lyft driver and two other men — cited the findings in a lawsuit accusing the police of gender bias.
The report called on the Police Department to double the size of the sex crimes squads by hiring more experienced investigators, training them better and creating greater promotion opportunities to attract seasoned detectives. The previous year, the watchdog reported, the division had 67 sex crimes investigators with 5,661 cases — a load 66 percent higher than in 2009, and 20 times higher than that of homicide detectives.
Police increased the number of investigators to 121. But the overall level of experience dropped as officials assigned unseasoned officers, and training has been inconsistent, city investigators and RTI researchers have said in separate reports.
The division has also lacked steady leadership. At least 10 supervisors have retired or transferred in the past four years, including two disciplined this year in connection with an internal affairs investigation of absenteeism and lost rape kits. Three commanders have led the division since 2018.
After the inspector general’s report, the City Council quickly passed legislation requiring the department to provide information about staffing and caseloads at the Special Victims Division, as well as implement training for all officers responding to sex crimes.
Helen Rosenthal, the council member who led the push for the changes, joined advocates and survivors in quarterly meetings with the police commissioner before the pandemic. Officials offered assurances, but she became frustrated with the lack of progress.
“We felt that we were being ‘yes ma’amed,’” she said.
She tried to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio, but managed only to grab him for a minute after an event in 2020, where she asked him to approve upgrades to spaces where victims meet investigators.
“What I asked him to do was the lowest, lowest-hanging pieces of fruit,” she said. “He did that. He did nothing else.”
Outside the Police Department itself, no one had the power to do more than the mayor, who appoints the commissioner and has ultimate say over the department’s priorities. But Mr. de Blasio, critics say, made little effort.
When the inspector general’s report was released, Mr. de Blasio echoed police officials in questioning its credibility. Months later, he fired the city’s top investigations official, Mark Peters, over an unrelated matter. Mr. Peters, in a letter to the City Council, accused police officials of obstructing the report by withholding documents and directing witnesses not to appear for interviews.
Michael G. Osgood, who was removed as the commander of the Special Victims Division after the audit, said in a wrongful-termination lawsuit that department lawyers instructed him to stonewall city investigators. Instead, he provided them with dozens of memos detailing the division’s problems and sat for interviews under oath — actions that he said led to his ouster.
The division’s performance seemed to get worse. Rape clearance rates, which measure how often cases are solved by arrest or are closed because of circumstances beyond investigators’ control, fell from about 47 percent in the last quarter of 2017 to 31 percent over the same period last year.
Mr. de Blasio did not grant an interview request from The Times. In a statement emailed by a spokesman on July 14, he said the federal investigation “must get to the truth, and anyone who didn’t do their jobs should be held fully accountable.”
But Donovan Richards, a former chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said Mr. de Blasio’s unquestioning support emboldened the department to resist efforts to fix its response to sexual assault.
“It’s very hard to make transformational change when you have a Police Department that the mayor backed,” said Mr. Richards, now the Queens borough president. “Everything’s a fight.”
In 2018, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo authorized the attorney general to investigate how the Police Department and the Manhattan district attorney’s office handled sexual assault complaints. The office of Attorney General Letitia James, elected that year, told The Times on July 11 that the probe continues.
Rape victims began contacting the Department of Justice after President Biden’s administration opened investigations into police practices in other cities.
A broad coalition of survivors, City Council members and victim-advocacy groups wrote letters asking federal prosecutors to examine whether the failure to fix the Special Victims Division amounted to gender bias.
Federal prosecutors responded within days of receiving the main letter from victims and their mothers, who were recruited by the Women’s Equal Justice Project, a nonprofit that helps survivors navigate the criminal justice system. They conducted more than a dozen interviews last fall.
Ms. Tron spoke to them in November. She said she had been nervous about talking to law enforcement officials again.
“It was cartoonish how bad the Special Victims Division treated me,” she said. By contrast, she said, the federal interview was “healing.”
Prosecutors laid out their investigation for survivors and advocates during a virtual meeting on July 8. They said that if they found violations and the city refused to undertake reforms, the Justice Department could sue.
Mr. Adams and Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell have pledged their full cooperation. In a public service announcement this year, the mayor labeled sexual violence a “crisis.”
Before the Justice Department stepped in, Mr. Adams did not publicly discuss the problems in the Special Victims Division.Mr. Levy, the mayor’s spokesman, said Mr. Adams had several conversations with officials in his administration about the division and replaced its commander.
Survivors and advocates say they hope Mr. Adams takes advantage of the opportunity the Justice Department investigation affords.
After all, Ms. Tron said, his signature issue is public safety.“