From the Uptowner:
On the evening of February 17, Deborah Nathan was dragged into the woods of Inwood Hill Park by an unknown assailant who, she said, sexually assaulted her. When her attacker fled the scene, Nathan immediately called 911. She was stunned and disappointed by the response.
A dispatcher told Nathan that the police were busy elsewhere, she said, and she waited for more than two hours before paramedics arrived. When the police finally took her report, according to Nathan, she provided a description of her attacker, as well as a full account of what he said during the attempted assault.
The police told her that the incident would be classified as “forcible touching,” a misdemeanor. Nathan, a 59-year-old freelance journalist, was surprised, believing she’d been the victim of attempted rape, a felony. She was further disappointed when she received a copy of her police report, and discovered that most of the details she’d provided weren’t included.
The next morning, an indignant Nathan posted an account of her experience on an Inwood blog (and subsequently told it to the Village Voice). Her story soon reached Adriano Espaillat, then the district’s state assemblyman, and the same afternoon, Nathan’s police report was changed, the crime upgraded to attempted rape, a felony.
Similar accounts, in which the police have reportedly downgraded felony crimes to misdemeanors in an apparent attempt to keep crime statistics low, have emerged over the past few years.
Former police officer Colleen Helly, who retired in September from the 32nd precinct, shares those concerns. She has personally experienced pressure from supervisors to downgrade a crime from a felony to a misdemeanor, she said. Listening to her fellow officers, Helly said, she learned that the practice has become widespread.
Robberies and sex crimes like Nathan’s are the easiest to manipulate, especially if the victim isn’t visibly hurt, Helly said. “If there’s no penetration, they won’t make it a sex abuse case,” she said. “If there’s no bruising, no injuries, they’re going to drop it down.”
Downgrading begins when responding officers alter or omit information in police reports, in Helly’s experience. “There are cases that do get downgraded,” she said, “and the majority of them are because of how they’re written up.” She blames poor training for some omissions, but says pressure from above prompts most deliberate downgradings. “It’s to make the city look better,” she said.