NYPD Tapes 3: A Detective Comes Forward About Downgraded Sexual Assaults

When even attempted rapes are being downgraded to misdemeanors, is the public safe?

Hernandez found out sometime later that a detective sergeant in the squad had noticed the similarity of the incidents, but when he brought it to the attention of the squad commander and the precinct commander, he was rebuffed.

"He told them, 'You have a predator out there,' and they said, 'Keep your mouth shut,' " Hernandez says. "He told them, 'You keep on believing that, it's going to blow up in your face. And it would get ugly if people found out about it.' They didn't listen."

The detective lays the responsibility for the downgrading at the feet of the precinct commander, then Captain Jason Wilcox, and his crime analysis sergeant.

Photo illustration by Chad Griffith


NYPD Tapes: The Series
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The NYPD Tapes, Part 2
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Follow continuing coverage of the NYPD Tapes here at our Runnin' Scared blog.

In the wake of Thomas's arrest, Wilcox was concerned that he would be disciplined for the handling of those complaints.

"He was able to dance his way out of the situation," Hernandez says. "The upper echelon praised my work. Everybody overlooked the fact that they allowed this predator to remain on the loose."

Prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office were very upset about the mishandling of those earlier incidents, and complained to their supervisor. The Assistant D.A. who handled the case, Nicole Blumberg, did not return Voice phone calls, and Thomas's defense attorney, Christopher Renfroe, declined comment.

"Once this thing blew up, the job made sure the press did not find out about this case," Hernandez says. "It was very high-profile within the department because they thought the women were going to run to the press."

No one was ever disciplined for misclassifying the attacks, he says. The case never made the newspapers or the electronic media.

Wilcox was promoted twice. A captain at the 33rd Precinct in 2002, he is now an Inspector in charge of the Manhattan Transit Bureau, which deals with subway crime in the borough. He has not responded to a request for comment.

A Manhattan grand jury indicted Thomas in five of the incidents, charging him with multiple counts of first-degree attempted rape, robbery, sexual abuse, and burglary. Despite the evidence against him, Thomas rejected plea deals of 20 years and 30 years and went to trial in November 2003. He testified that he had been in some kind of dream state during his crime spree, but the jury didn't buy it and convicted him of all 18 counts in the indictment.

In February 2004, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The earliest date he can be released is 2045. He will be 75 years old.

"Anybody who continues to allow this stuff to go on is pathetic," Hernandez says of the NYPD, which has become more concerned with crime statistics than actually solving crime itself. "They've lost sight of what they were supposed to be doing out there. They've lost sight of their oath."

Since the "NYPD Tapes" series began on May 5, the Voice has heard from more than a dozen current and retired police officers of various ranks who offered their own stories and expressed concern about the downgrading of complaints, the quota system, and how the statistical demand for stop-and-frisks was leading to potential civil rights violations.

So far, neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has responded to Voice queries about these issues.

Retired Sergeant Sean McCafferty says that each precinct has a so-called crime analysis unit, and that is where the manipulation of complaints takes place. "They get the reports before the detective squad, and they would call the complainant and question them about their complaint," he says.

McCafferty says that the crime analysis unit doesn't work weekends, so if a complaint comes in late on a Friday, the detective squad won't see it until the following Monday. "That would stop the investigation for two days," he says. "CompStat has helped the department, but some people use it as a weapon. The commanding officers—their future depends on it."

Retired police officer Bobby Marin, who left the NYPD in 1985, says that the orders that precinct commanders gave to officers in the campaign to "clear corners" [highlighted in Part 2 of the Voice series] sounded like civil rights violations: "Those tapes should be brought to the federal prosecutors," he says.

Marin added that the obsession with numbers has altered the police officer's job. "The main thing is handling the jobs—that's what makes you a good police officer," he says. "All they see is business, quotas, numbers, money."

An officer currently in a Manhattan precinct told the Voice: "Over the past two years, the cop writing a report is now cross-examining the victim. This insane CompStat pressure has turned a police officer who shouldn't care about what the complaint is into a defense attorney. I'm all about letting the paperwork reflect the reality. Let's just get it done and go on to the next job."

Professors John Eterno of Molloy College and Eli Silverman of John Jay College have released a new study based on a survey of hundreds of retired NYPD supervisors, which offers yet more evidence of the practice of downgrading criminal complaints. The study, to be published in the International Journal of Police Science and Management, found that pressure to downgrade crime complaints grew as a result of the CompStat model, which holds precinct commanders accountable for crime in their areas. The CompStat model has four major elements: timely and accurate intelligence (crime statistics), effective tactics, swift deployment of cops to troubled areas, and relentless follow-up. The model has been adopted throughout the United States, as well as in England and Australia.

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