New Manhattan Special Victims facility aims to provide greater care for crime victims

BY GABE HERMAN | The New York Police Department announced earlier this month that it has opened a new Manhattan Special Victims facility in Lower Manhattan, which focuses on accommodating survivors throughout the investigative process.

The new, renovated facility at 137 Centre St., near White Street, includes a child-friendly waiting area, comfortable furniture designed for victims, and aesthetic upgrades such as art, plants and welcoming signage.

Renovations for another floor of the building are currently in the design stage, and will have include space for the District Attorney’s office and for abuse survivors, including interview rooms and waiting rooms.

The new facility is at 137 Centre St. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

There is also now an advocate on-site from Safe Horizon, a citywide nonprofit that provides social services for victims of abuse and violent crime. Safe Horizon advocates also started working in the Bronx Special Victim Division in September. And the District Attorney is expected to move into the Manhattan facility by the end of this year.

“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,” said Deputy Chief Judith Harrison, commanding officer of the Special Victims Division. “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.

“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,” Harrison added. “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.”

“We are proud to partner with the NYPD and its Special Victims Division to help survivors feel safe, comfortable and supported during a time when they may feel their most vulnerable,” said Ariel Zwang, CEO of Safe Horizon. “We applaud SVD for taking a trauma-informed and client-centered approach to redesigning their space and the presence of our advocates will support survivors as they seek justice and healing.”

The building at 137 Centre St. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said of the new facility, “With police, prosecutors, advocates, and service providers working together under one roof to help survivors report crimes, secure justice, and heal trauma, these facilities exemplify our shared commitment to victim-centered law enforcement.”

Upgrades were also announced to the Special Victims Division facilities in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island. And the N.Y.P.D. noted that the division has had increased staffing since April 2018. The average caseload for a detective is now 61.1, down from 76.5 at the end of 2017.

There has also been enhanced training for those in the division, including trauma-informed, empathy-based training for investigators. And every police officer has gotten mandatory training about ensuring they are victim-centered when responding to a sex crime.

Sex crimes can be reported at any police facility and to any police officer, the N.Y.P.D. noted, and people can call 911 or the N.Y.P.D.’s 24-hour rape hotline at 212-267-RAPE (7273).