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City Housing Commissioner to Return to Teaching, Remain in Government Role


Been de Blasio housing

HPD Commissioner Been & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)


Commissioner Vicki Been, head of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), is planning to return to teaching at NYU Law School, Gotham Gazette has learned.

According to the school’s course offerings, Been will be teaching a Spring semester property law course on Monday and Wednesday mornings, 8:50-10:40 a.m., beginning in January. According to an HPD spokesperson, Been is not leaving the administration. The spokesperson, Melissa Grace, said that Been had no comment on these plans and pointed out that many people in government also teach.

NYU Law School Vicki Been course screen shot

Been has been on academic leave from NYU School of Law and, according to Grace of HPD, the property course is one she has taught many times over a 25 year span. Grace did not comment in response to the point that government employees who teach courses usually do so at night, not during the typical workday, nor in response to the notion that there don’t appear to be any other city agency commissioners or deputy mayors who teach courses.

A spokesperson for the mayor also declined to comment on the nature of Been’s upcoming schedule, but did also confirm from City Hall that Been does not intend to leave the administration.

Appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead HPD in February of 2014, Been has been one of the chief architects of the mayor’s affordable housing plan, a top de Blasio priority. Along with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and City Planning Chief Carl Weisbrod, Been has been spearheading the effort to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. That plan is off to a solid start, with, according to the administration, “52,936 affordable homes financed” through fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30.

According to the press release announcing Been’s hire in 2014, she was at that time “the Boxer Family Professor of Law at NYU School of Law,” where she has been on leave since (Been also earned her J.D. from NYU Law School). At the time of her hire, she was also “the Director of NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy” and “Affiliated Professor of Public Policy of the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.”

As the mayor moves further toward completion of his third year in office, he has seen several top officials depart his administration, including de Blasio’s counsel, Maya Wiley. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announced his retirement earlier this summer and will depart mid-September. Additional prior departures have included the mayor’s press secretary, other agency commissioners, and one deputy mayor.

While the mayor has had an up-and-down term and his administration and campaign fundraising practices are the sources of several law enforcement investigations, there is also normally upper-level staff turnover as an administration moves through a mayoral term. Neither de Blasio nor any of his staff or allies have been charged with a crime, and de Blasio has maintained that he and his associates have acted ethically and will be vindicated once the investigations are completed.

Been is a self-described policy wonk and widely praised by colleagues and other government officials, including City Council members. She has given no public indication of plans to leave the administration.

In a statement at the time of her hire Been said, “We’re going to take a much more aggressive approach to protecting and building affordable apartments that responds to the crisis we’re in. From apartments approaching the end of their subsidy to homes lost to Superstorm Sandy, we need faster and more innovative strategies that seize every opportunity to keep apartments affordable and accelerate the pace of bringing new ones online.”

Visit to Bronxchester Shows NYCHA in Transition, Section 8 Concerns


NYCHA NextGen Olatoye BK

NYCHA Chair Olatoye at a NYCHA event (photo via NYCHA on Flickr)


There are several pieces to the affordable housing puzzle in New York City. One is the city’s large public housing stock, home to about half a million people across the five boroughs. Another, at times overlapping piece is Section 8 vouchers, also known as Housing Choice Vouchers, which are federal subsidies that allow low-income tenants to live in a variety of locations, depending on where those vouchers are being accepted.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is in charge of both traditional public housing properties and the Section 8 voucher program in New York City. As public housing properties have continued to wither after decades of use and lack of continued investment, especially from the federal government, the repair needs and costs far exceed what NYCHA alone can afford. While federal funds have moved toward privatization, thus the Section 8 program, New York City has grappled with how to properly keep up its public housing. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYCHA Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye announced and began implementing an ambitious new plan, NextGeneration NYCHA, which aims to get the authority back on solid fiscal footing over the course of a number of years.

The Section 8 voucher program is funded by the federal government, but it is administered by local housing authorities. The program has been in the news of later because the federal government is considering a major shake-up of Section 8 with the goal of fostering neighborhood integration and socioeconomic mobility. But, the proposal has alarmed many in New York City who want the city exempted from the new rules.

New Yorkers wishing to obtain a Section 8 voucher can apply for one through NYCHA, which screens applicants and administers the most vouchers of any public housing authority in the country. The program allows voucher holders to rent a privately-owned apartment within in a certain rent limit - the participant spends 30 percent of their income on rent and the voucher serves as a federal subsidy that covers the remaining cost.

Meanwhile, the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program is a new form of federal assistance designed to help public housing authorities across the country pay for unmet repairs and redevelopment in public housing properties. The “national backlog of deferred maintenance” on public housing properties across the country currently totals to approximately $26 billion. In New York, NYCHA’s public housing properties’ “unfunded capital needs” total approximately $16.5 billion, more than half the national sum.

The goal of RAD is to alleviate the debt burden felt by local public housing authorities by allowing them to sell a stake in their properties to private development firms that can then refurbish the units. When a public housing authority sells a stake in their public housing property to a private developer and redevelopment of a public housing development takes place, the tenants living in these units are no longer tenants of a public housing development but become Section 8 voucher holders living in a private-public property, while the housing units themselves are required by law to continue as affordable housing units.

NYCHA’s Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program is the operation that facilitates the use of RAD funding in New York City. While NYCHA is applying to have 40 public housing properties transformed into Section 8 properties through RAD/PACT -- a transformation that will allow the housing authority to harness the resources of private developers for refurbishment -- it has already implemented a public-private partnership for several properties around the city.

Bronxchester Houses is one such property. The redevelopment that has taken place at Bronxchester is not a RAD project simply because the property, while owned and operated by NYCHA since its acquisition in the 1970s, was never public housing but was rather always Section 8 housing. This status as Section 8 housing owned by NYCHA is one shared by five other properties, and when the housing authority sold a 50 percent stake in the properties to a private developer, Triborough Preservation Partners, which is itself a partnership between L+M Development and Preservation Development Partners, in late 2014, the sale allowed for the redevelopment of approximately 875 apartments.

Situated near The HUB shopping district in the South Bronx, the Bronxchester Houses are home to 208 apartments. The repairs completed by Triborough are both structural and cosmetic. The courtyard, once covered in asphalt with one small splash of grass, is now covered with greenery and includes a new playground, a new basketball court, new park benches, and new picnic tables.

On a recent visit accompanied by members of the media, Olatoye, the NYCHA chair and CEO, called the refurbished property a “haven for the community,” and an “island of respite,” descriptive language not frequently used when discussing NYCHA properties.

The cosmetic repairs made by Triborough were as important to NYCHA as the structural repairs. Olatoye noted that it was important for NYCHA to see the old, yellow cinder block walls so strongly associated with public housing replaced by brighter, more welcoming material in redevelopment. The elevators and mailboxes in the lobby were replaced and refurbished, creating a friendlier entrance. The purpose of these aesthetic changes is to create an environment for residents that is welcoming and destigmatized.

The updates to appearance, security, and structure made to the Bronxchester Houses would not have been possible without private funding. NYCHA is prohibited by law from placing debt on its properties, but a private company faces no such restriction. And while the currently established public-private partnerships in New York City are not RAD-funded, the future of this type of housing redevelopment will be.

The first property that will undergo rehabilitation through RAD/PACT funding is the Ocean Bay property in Queens. If the housing authority’s application for RAD funding is approved, 40 other NYCHA properties, which consist of 5,200 housing units, will follow.

NYCHA’s Vice President for Development, Nicole Ferreira says that the RAD program will allow NYCHA to chip away at the $16.5 billion capital needs deficit it faces. “The 5,200 [units] is just the beginning. We had talked in the NextGen report about at least getting 15,000 units. But I would say, though, the 5,200 equals one billion dollars in capital repairs, so if we get through that, that’s a billion dollars. The entire 15,000 units we’d like to get to, and maybe it ends up being bigger than that, who knows, but the entire 15,000 units is about 6 percent of our portfolio, but it represents 20 percent of our capital needs. 15,000 units equals three billion dollars in capital.”

While approval for RAD funding for those 5,200 units is not guaranteed, Ferreira is optimistic about NYCHA’s chances. “Our 5,200 units are on the HUD waitlist, so there’s a 185,000 unit cap nationwide, so any other additional units have been put on a waitlist, but we’ve been having very positive conservations with HUD about, as other public housing authorities can’t close projects that, or they have no longer any interest, that maybe NYCHA would be prioritized.”

Judith Goldiner, the attorney in charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at Legal Aid Society is cautiously optimistic about the RAD program.

“What we hope will be good about RAD is sort of twofold: one is that the bad parts of RAD we think that we have tried to address by keeping basically all the ton of protections that tenants have in public housing now if their building is converted to RAD, and the hope is, the other good part of RAD would be that there’s money for repairs that there are not currently in public housing,” she said. “The concern, obviously is that we’re losing apartments in the public housing portfolio, and that’s not where we’d like to be.”

The RAD program signals a significant shift away from maintaining public housing in its traditional form and toward the preservation and rehabilitation of properties transformed from public housing to Section 8 housing, with private funding and without the additional step of privatization.

Section 8 refers to the section included in the federal Housing and Community Development Act that outlines the Housing Choice Voucher program. The federal program was established in 1974 under President Richard Nixon as a free-market alternative to public housing. It was originally designed to give low-income Americans agency and mobility in the housing market. It was also designed to save the government money; constructing and maintaining public housing is expensive. Transitioning away from public housing was seen as a win-win scenario for both the government and tenants because by the 1970s, living in public housing had become increasingly untenable as conditions for tenants continued to deteriorate and the federal government disinvested.

Vouchers allow qualified applicants to live in apartments of their choice up to a certain price -- which differs by location -- and devote approximately 30 percent of their income to rent while the federal government covers the remaining cost each month. While these vouchers were intended to give potential tenants with low incomes more choice in housing, in many cases that has not occurred. Because the amount of rent the federal government will subsidize is limited based on the average cost of rent in each specific area, voucher holders’ choices of apartments are limited, and thus, they are often confined to poorer neighborhoods. Currently, there are 90,000 Section 8 vouchers in use in New York City, and there are 147,033 families on the waitlist for vouchers.

Recently, the Obama administration proposed changes to the Section 8 voucher system, intending to increase the choices available to voucher holders and improve racial and socioeconomic integration in wealthier neighborhoods throughout the country. If enacted, the new regulations would adjust the rent subsidy based on average incomes in a given area, offering more subsidy in wealthier areas, less in poorer ones. The proposal targets the fact that because of limits, most Section 8 participants use the subsidy in poorer neighborhoods; by offering a higher subsidy ceiling, the hope is that more low-income earners will rent in wealthier areas.

There is, however, considerable debate - especially here in New York City - of whether the Obama administration’s goals will actually come to fruition through these changes. Some say that the changes would so disrupt things for low-income tenants in the city, with its unique housing market and incredibly low vacancy rates, that a spike in homelessness would be guaranteed.

The President’s proposed changes, announced in mid-June, are just the latest development in the long, turbulent history of affordable housing policy in the United States. A centerpiece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political agenda, the availability of affordable housing is an especially important issue for many New Yorkers. No city in the country distributes more Section 8 vouchers, but with 2.5 million people applying for only 2,600 affordable housing units last summer, affordable housing continues to elude many New Yorkers.

While the RAD program is intended to transform public housing into Section 8 housing, the Obama administration’s proposed changes to Section 8 vouchers are intended to move voucher holders to neighborhoods that are far away from most public housing. The plan to distribute smaller subsidies for tenants living in poorer neighborhoods is the main source of tension. While many officials in the Obama administration point to studies showing the inherent benefits of living in a wealthy, resource-rich neighborhood and the moral interest in desegregating some of the country’s biggest cities, a diverse coalition of stakeholders in New York City has emerged in opposition to the proposed changes.

Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres, chair of the Council’s public housing committee, fears that homelessness could rise as the federal government decreases subsidies for tenants living in poorer areas. In an op-ed for NY Slant, Torres wrote, “Moving people to neighborhoods that offer them a better life is a worthy endeavor, to be sure, but what happens when there is essentially no place for people to move? What happens when voucher holders, facing a vacancy rate of 1.8 percent for units affordable to them, have nowhere to go? HUD's romantic rhetoric about mobility and opportunity is at odds with the unromantic reality of the New York City housing market.”

Goldiner, of Legal Aid, also points to New York’s unique housing market as evidence that the city is unsuited to the proposed changes.

“New York has almost a 50 percent turn-back rate, which means when people have to move and get a voucher to move, almost 50 percent of them are not able to,” she said.

The critiques expressed by liberal politicians like Torres and nonprofits like Legal Aid Society are shared by some landlords who fear that these changes will result in more tenants finding themselves unable to pay their rent each month. The city is already dealing with a homelessness crisis hovering around 60,000 people without stable housing.

Despite this alarm, the studies to which the Obama administration points when justifying the new proposals show that location is key when it comes to one’s chances for upward social mobility.

Professors Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard University studied the effect of place on the long-term economic outcomes of children who moved during their childhood. Their research focused on whether the number of years a child spent growing up in a low-poverty neighborhood versus a high-poverty neighborhood had any effect on their success as an adult. They found that it did. As reported by the New York Times, low-poverty neighborhoods are not just areas where poverty is low, they are also areas where inequality, violent crime rates, and segregation across racial and socioeconomic lines are low, schools are good, and two-parent households are prevalent. According to the research, the earlier in life a child moves from a high-poverty neighborhood to a low-poverty neighborhood, the better.

Chetty and Hendren’s research shows that growing up poor in all parts of New York City does not bode well for a child’s earnings and livelihood as an adult. Many poor neighborhoods in New York City are areas with a high concentration of Section 8 voucher holders - areas of the city like Central Brooklyn, the South Bronx, and Upper Manhattan.

The concentration of voucher holders in poorer neighborhoods, a phenomenon in existence across the country, stems not only from tenants’ limit in choice due to government subsidy cutoffs, but it can also be attributed to landlord preference.

In many higher income neighborhoods, landlords do not prefer to have voucher holders as tenants. In 2008, the practice of discriminating against a potential tenant based solely on their status as a Section 8 voucher holder became illegal in New York City under the New York City human rights law; however, that does not always deter landlords from engaging in the practice, and in many areas of New York State the practice is perfectly legal.

Additionally, there is no federal law forbidding discrimination based on legal source of income. This fact has prompted U.S. Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn to introduce a bill to Congress that would outlaw housing discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders across the country.

This discrimination is in line with much of the history of housing throughout the country. Access to housing in the U.S., including affordable housing, has been marred by discrimination for decades, and this discrimination has had serious consequences. According to proponents of the changes, Chetty and Hendren’s research shows that the road to equality is a matter of location and integration, and with the proposed changes to the Section 8 voucher program, the Obama administration is attempting to implement the tools to create a solution. But critics of the changes say that if the program can only be made possible by taking away subsidies from voucher holders living in poorer neighborhoods, a potential rise in homelessness is a real threat, especially in a city as large and as expensive as New York.

The proposed changes to Section 8 and the RAD program present New Yorkers with two possible options for change in how some affordable housing is created and maintained. Whether either option will do more harm than good for those in need of affordable housing remains to be seen.

In terms of improving NYCHA’s properties and consequently, residents’ homes, VP Ferreira is mindful of the strengths of public-private partnerships made possible by RAD, but also recognizes the need to explore all options when it comes to improving affordable housing for New Yorkers.

“The goal is, there’s not one program that’s going to address everything, but we have to use all of the tools at our disposal, and RAD is just one of those tools,” she said.

***
by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected with the correct number of NYCHA developments or properties in the RAD application: it is 40, not 29.

Increase in Rape Reports Given Little Attention Amid Celebration of Crime Drops


NYPD BdB presser

Mayor de Blasio at a press briefing (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


“You’re going to hear some numbers that are striking,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio as he began an August 4 press conference on the city’s latest crime statistics. “2016 saw the fewest shootings, the fewest robberies, the fewest burglaries, the fewest auto-thefts of any first-half of a year in a CompStat era. So, when you think about that, the lives of everyday New Yorkers are freer. They’re more peaceful. They’re less disrupted. And people have every reason to feel safer.”

Yet, there are some striking numbers that are less often heard during the mayor’s crime briefings, which have lately had a celebratory tone, like the city’s rising number of reported rapes, increasing reports of misdemeanor sexual assaults, and decline in the percentage of reported rapes that result in arrest.

While violent crimes like murder and shootings are largely declining in New York City, reports of another type of violent crime, rape, have increased over the past two years. Through the middle of August, according to NYPD statistics, there have been 717 shooting victims in the city, a 15.5 percent drop from the same point last year, and 931 reported rapes, a 7.4 percent increase from 2015.

Many in New York City are fixated on gun violence, and for good reason, but the consistent uptick in another violent act that can leave physical and psychological scars remains troubling and under-appreciated by many.

Rape, like all other felonies in New York City, has declined since the NYPD began keeping track of such crimes using CompStat more than two decades ago, yet the recent increase in reported rapes demands attention. It is unclear if that attention is being given, since discussion of rape is largely missing from the mayoral-NYPD press conferences and data from the NYPD shows that the percentage of reported rapes resulting in arrest dropped 16 percent from 2009 to 2015 (from 71 to 55 percent), while the number of reported rapes has increased 19.3 percent during that same time.

To celebrate the crime statistics for the first half of 2016, the NYPD created a six-page pamphlet, “Half Year Crime Report,” that indicates drops in murder, shootings, and overall arrests on the cover. Inside the handout, there are infographics about “precision policing” and “gang takedowns,” as well as a page labeled “The Right Direction,” showing downward arrows labeled “murder,” “shootings,” “robbery,” and “burglary.” There is no mention of the increase in reported rapes on that page or any of the others.

NYPD Right Direction graphic no rape

As of 2015, roughly half of reported rapes result in arrest, and even when arrests are made, charges are not always filed. Tracking the results of these reported rapes (prosecution, conviction, dismissal, etc.) is further obfuscated by the way in which both city and state authorities, from the NYPD and the District Attorneys to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services, keep records of rapes.

Reported rapes in the city declined between 2003 and 2009, dropping from 2,070 in 2003 to the city’s all time low of 1,205 in 2009. The number of reported rapes steadily increased in the three years that followed, with 1,373 in 2010; 1,420 in 2011; and 1,445 in 2012.

Reported rapes dipped slightly for two years (1,378 in 2013 and 1,352 in 2014), before rising once again, to 1,438, in 2015. This year, 2016, is on track to have an even greater number of reported rapes: through mid-August, there were 931 reported rapes, up from 867 this time last year, putting the city on pace to have 1,544 reported rapes by the end of 2016 (about 100 more than last year).

It is possible that the rising number of reported rapes is partially the result of more rapes being reported, rather than more rapes being committed, something which outgoing Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has dubbed the “Cosby Effect,” referring to Bill Cosby and the attention around all of his alleged victims coming forward, some after many years. Heightened awareness about sexual assault and improved social norms about reporting rape could be leading more victims, especially women, to come forward.

“With the rapes that were recorded in New York City this year, one out of four did not occur this year – and that’s fairly consistent with what we see in prior years,” Deputy Commissioner Dermot Shea said during a July press conference at which NYPD officials and Mayor de Blasio celebrated the half-year crime numbers. (At that press conference, Shea did note the increase in rape - “up 7.3 percent,” he said - but he did not discuss efforts to combat the uptick. At the August crime briefing for press Shea said “rape was up” and moved on.)

Of the 1,438 rapes reported in 2015, 235 occurred prior to that year, dating as far back at 1975.

Police departments across the country are reporting a similar trend, and the increase in reported rapes coincides with city and state efforts to encourage more victims of rape to come forward and report the crime.

In the past two years, the NYPD has created new agreements with local colleges to encourage immediate reporting of sexual assault, worked with hospital emergency rooms to encourage reporting, and distributed 48,000 cards and flyers throughout the city explaining sexual violence and encouraging people to report crimes to the Special Victims Division. In 2014, the Metropolitan Transit Authority created an online portal for sexual misconduct complaints, where victims may attach a photo and make an anonymous report.

“I think it would be logical to presume that if there’s an increase in acquaintance rapes being reported, it might in fact be an increase in reporting, because there has been so much focus on this issue of non-stranger rape in the past few years, especially on college campuses,” said Lisa Smith, former chief sex crimes prosecutor for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and professor at Brooklyn Law School. “I definitely think the publicity is encouraging women to report.”

Still, there are likely far more rapes occurring in New York City than are reported, given that nationally only about 34 percent of rapes result in a police report, according to the Department of Justice, with less than 2 percent of those reports resulting in the rapist’s incarceration. And while the city’s efforts to encourage more victims to come forward are praiseworthy, they should coincide with an increase in the number of rape cases that actually result in some semblance of justice for the victim, and with efforts to prevent such crimes from occurring in the first place.

For example, the NYPD could do more to let New Yorkers know where stranger rapes are occurring. Currently, CompStat 2.0 maps incidents of rape down to the nearest intersection, but does not distinguish which category of rape the crime falls under - stranger, acquaintance, or domestic. While the vast majority of rapes reported in the city are acquaintance or domestic (92 percent, according to the NYPD), rapes committed by strangers also rose from 2014 to 2015 (117 to 166).

Yet, “there is no easy way for a civilian to determine” where stranger rapes are frequently occurring, as New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante pointed out, such as in 2013, when a man raped four women in the span of a week, finding all of his victims along the B12 bus route between Crown Heights and Canarsie.

Reports of misdemeanor sex crimes, including forcible touching, public lewdness, and unlawful surveillance, have also spiked in recent years, particularly on the subways, where reports of such crimes have increased by 56.7 percent (431 crimes through May, 275 by the same time in 2015).

By mid-August 2014, there were 1,595 reported misdemeanor sex crimes in New York City. By the same time in 2015, that number rose to 1,887. This year through mid-August, there have been 2,096 reported misdemeanor sex crimes, an 11.1 percent increase from last year. Again, this increase could be due in part to efforts to encourage victims to report sex offenses, rather than an increase in the number of sex offenses occurring.

Ideally, more reports would lead to more arrests, more prosecutions, and more convictions - more justice for victims who are increasingly willing to put their faith in the system and go through with the onerous and emotionally taxing process of reporting the crime and all that follows. Data from the NYPD shows this is not the case.

reported table sans caption*Arrest data provided by NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information

Even when arrests are made, charges are not necessarily filed. Best-selling memoirist Mary Karr recounted an instance of forcible touching on the streets of Manhattan for The New Yorker earlier this August, culminating in the arrest of a man she dubbed “the crotchgrabber.”

“Nobody ever called me to court, but the cops had cuffed him, dragged him out of the bus station, and booked him,” Karr wrote. “A woman should be able to count on follow-through from the justice system—they’d eventually fail to charge him.”

The picture is incomplete without data on outcomes of these arrests and reports, yet the fact that only half of reported rapes result in arrest, and the number of arrests is declining while the number of reported rapes is increasing is cause for concern.

Because of the way New York City’s Police Department and District Attorney offices keep track of these crimes, it is nearly impossible to determine whether the city’s efforts to encourage more rape victims to report crimes to the police are actually resulting in more justice for the victims, or, ultimately, more trauma, forcing victims relive the event multiple times while relaying their stories to the police, with nothing to show for it but a police report and wasted time.

The NYPD does not keep track of prosecutions or convictions, while the District Attorney offices do not keep numbers of reports or arrests. This disconnect makes it difficult to link the number of reported rapes to the number of prosecutions and convictions that result from those reported rapes. Tracking the outcomes is further complicated by the fact that each of the five District Attorney offices may not maintain records in the same way.

Instead, the State Division of Criminal Justice Services keeps more consistent records of arrests and dispositions across all five boroughs. Yet, data compiled by DCJS presents its own challenge: not only is DCJS unable to link the number of reported rapes to the number of rape arrests made (rather, its data on the outcomes of those arrests begin with the arrest, not with the report), the number of rapes the NYPD reports to DCJS (2,244 in 2015) is far greater than the number of rapes the NYPD reports internally. This is because the NYPD must use the FBI’s definition of rape when reporting the number of rapes that occurred in any given year to the state, which is broader than the NYPD’s definition.

“Rape is a crime of opportunity, so it’s a bit harder to prevent,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Lieutenant John Grimpel told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “Once we are made aware of a crime, we investigate all rapes the same. If a violent crime happened to you, we want you to come forward.”

Those who commit sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals, like those who commit robbery or assault. The vast majority of reported rapes in New York City are committed by someone the victim knows, yet, as NYPD Deputy Commissioner Shea said in July, “the unique nature of these cases at times makes it difficult as we move through the criminal justice system.”

While stranger rapes constitute a small percent of the city’s reported rapes, they typically command greater police and media attention, and “there is very good evidence that those cases end up in prosecution or conviction most of the time,” said Smith, formerly of the Brooklyn DA office, now at Brooklyn Law School.

Getting justice for the victims of domestic or acquaintance rape is generally a murkier process, though in the past few years, stories of acquaintance rape - from Bill Cosby to college campuses - have begun to be taken more seriously.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has put some focus on college campus sexual assault in New York, signing legislation requiring all colleges and universities to adopt new measures to prevent and respond to rape in July 2015. In New York City, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit regularly conducts trainings for representatives from local colleges and universities to help individuals better identify and encourage reporting of sexual assault. DA Cy Vance has also dedicated money from his office’s settlements to reducing the backlog of rape kits across the country.

Campus rape in New York City made widespread headlines in 2014 when then-Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress around campus to protest the fact that her accused rapist remained on campus. Across the country, shockingly light sentences handed down to convicted rapists in cases of acquaintance rape on college campuses have garnered national attention in recent months. Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of three counts of sexual assault, was sentenced to six months in jail in June (he faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison). On August 10, a judge ruled that Austin Wilkerson, a University of Colorado student convicted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman, will not have to serve a prison sentence, and instead sentenced him to two years work-release and 20 years probation.

“If more than a quarter of people in this community were killed by a drunk driver, or assaulted or menaced during an invasion of their home, the community would call for a stronger message than a sentence of probation with no punitive sanction to effectuate respect for the law, the deterrence of crime, and the protection of the public,” District Attorney Stanley Garnett wrote in a victim memo to the court.

“Sexual assault should be no different. Murderers go to prison. Armed robbers go to prison. Rapists go to prison. This is what justice requires,” Garnett wrote.

Ultimately, the city should also invest more in efforts to prevent sexually violent crimes from happening in the first place. In order to truly reduce the number of sexual assaults that take place, advocates and the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention alike say “primary prevention” or prevention education is the most effective method.

“So much of prevention for non-stranger rapes has to do with educating young people about consent in middle school and in high school,” Smith said. “There are many different institutions that need to get involved in that, and law enforcement is only one spoke on that wheel.”

Last year, California became the first state in the nation to mandate lessons on sexual violence prevention and affirmative consent in high schools. Yet in New York City, educational programs “shown to prevent sexual violence perpetration,” according to the CDC, are not mandated, but rather, are left up to the discretion of the principal in middle and high schools.

The de Blasio administration and the City Council have demonstrated willingness to fund programs to prevent violence and protect New Yorkers time and again, from investing $12.7 million in gun violence prevention programs in 2014 to allocating $115 million in new capital funds earlier this year to expand the city’s Vision Zero program to reduce traffic fatalities.

Judging by the numbers, the city’s efforts seem to be working. Shooting victims are down 15.6 percent over the past two years. There were 231 traffic fatalities in 2015, 66 fewer than in 2013, the year before Vision Zero began. There were more reported rapes in the first three months of 2016 alone, 310, than traffic fatalities in all of 2015.

“Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the safety of the women in this city, and again, we don’t like some of these trends we see and we want to combat them,” Mayor de Blasio said in response to a question about the rising rape numbers during a January 12 press conference. “We take this very, very seriously and it’s our responsibility, period.”

The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story, deferring to the NYPD.

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.



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