New SVU head calls for ‘empathy, sympathy’ in sexual assault cases

The new head of the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit says he would like to bring “empathy and sympathy” to the beleaguered division — and will use his experience as a registered nurse to train patrol officers to deal with sexual assault survivors more compassionately.

“I know there have been gray clouds over this division,” Michael King told The Post.

“I would like to bring special victims into a whole new era of investigations, empathy, sympathy and policing. That’s my main goal. I want survivors to know we are a division of specialized professional people that you can come to at any time that you need help, you need services, you need support.

“This division is a place that is welcome — open arms — to everyone who needs it.”

King, 45, is taking the reins from Assistant Chief Judith Harrison, who ran the embattled unit until she was promoted to Borough Commander of Brooklyn North last month, overseeing the safety and operations of ten precincts.

King said one of his plans is to make the unit as victim-centered as possible.

“I want investigations started with an open mind,” he said. “I don’t want anyone saying, ‘We don’t do that,’ or ‘I don’t think that could have happened.’”

As part of a new initiative, he even plans to train patrol cops to deal with victims more compassionately.

“I would also like to get patrol better trained in terms of handling and speaking, and interacting, with victims and survivors because I firmly believe the first impression that a survivor gets from a member of this department is long-lasting and can actually traverse right through their experience with the law enforcement system,” King said.

“We have specialized training here at SVU for our incoming white shield police officers who are going to at some point become detectives — and I would like to extend that training to patrol.”

The training, which is currently in the planning process, will be focused on getting patrol officers to understand why sexual assault victims are considered special.

“The victims that you encounter here in SVD, they’re very different from those from a robbery or a burglary, or whatever it is, a carjacking,” King said.

“I try to instill that. When you have a person who is violated in a sexual manner, you have a certain rate of suicide among survivors. You don’t have people who have been robbed committing suicide, right? If someone’s car is stolen, they aren’t going to kill themselves.”

King said he plans to talk to Chief of Patrol Fausto Pichardo about how many officers could receive the training.

The division came under fire in 2018 when it was the subject of a scathing report by the Department of Investigation, which said the unit was too understaffed and poorly trained to properly handle its caseload.

In its report, the DOI found that there were just 67 detectives to investigate 5,661 cases across all Special Victims squads, which handle adult sex-crime cases in the five boroughs.

One victim who testified at a City Council hearing in 2018 about the unit’s problems said she reported her rape to a detective who “was immediately skeptical.”

“The police scoffed and told me, ‘He’s not going to jail for this,’” the woman wrote in testimony read out loud by a friend.

“When I voiced my concerns to the NYPD, they told me, ‘This is just how things work.’ In other words, this was normal to them. That’s not OK.”

King, who has a 10-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son, admitted he’s heard about similar complaints made against the NYPD when it comes to dealing with sex crimes victims.

“There have been stories I have heard personally from survivors that when they spoke to law enforcement, they didn’t feel like they were believed, they didn’t feel like there was compassion or empathy,” he told The Post.

“I’m not saying that’s every cop on patrol. I would never say that. But even if one person has said that to me that’s one too many.”

He said he believes his experiences with victims in a hospital emergency room have given him a different perspective of a sexual assault survivor.

“I had to learn how to interview survivors,” King said.

“And then preparing the kit and conducting the examination is very, very invasive. That allowed me to interact with survivors in a way that law enforcement cannot. When we have a survivor being examined, the police officers are not even allowed to be in the same room for obvious reasons.

“I think that gives me a unique insight into dealing with survivors.”

John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism, praised King for his drive to help people.

“He has the innate drive to help people that made him become a paramedic on an ambulance in New York City,” Miller said.

“He had the care and compassion to push himself to become a nurse at Beth Israel. He also has that sense of justice that pushed him to become a cop in South Jamaica and then lead a detective squad in Bay Ridge.

“At SVU he can combine his experiences of helping people in trauma, his knowledge of science, forensics and investigation and his sense of justice in a way no one else — at least no one else I know — could.”

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