Episode 40: Sergeant Joe Paglione, Special Victims Unit
Sergeant Joe Paglione, supervisor of the Special Victims Unit in the Mercer County, New Jersey, Prosecutor's Office, speaks about his unit and how it serves both adults and children in Mercer County.
Sgt. Paglione began his Law Enforcement career in 2000 with the Mercer County Sherriffs Office. After 1.5 years, he was transferred to the Ewing Township Police Department where he was assigned to the Patrol Division. In 2007, Sgt. Paglione was hired by the Mercer County Prosecutors Office as a Detective where he has worked in the Trial, Special Victims, Narcotics and Homicide Units. In May of 2019, Sgt. Paglione was promoted to the rank of Detective Sergeant where he was assigned to supervise the Special Victims Unit.
Intro Voices 0:05
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices 0:31
This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi everyone and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Sergeant Joe Paglione, Supervisor of the Special Victims Unit in the Mercer County prosecutor's office, located in Trenton, New Jersey, Sergeant Paglione is here to talk about the Special Victims Unit, and how the unit serves both children and adult victims of Mercer County, New Jersey, Sergeant Paglione. Welcome to You Matter.
Joe Paglione 01:22
Hello, how are you?
Karen Ortman 01:23
I'm doing well. How are you?
Joe Paglione 01:25
Good thank you.
Karen Ortman 01:27
What is the Special Victims Unit? And what type of investigations do you conduct?
Joe Paglione 01:34
So the Special Victims Unit is a unit that's dedicated to investigating sex crimes against children and adults, as well as crimes against children involving abuse and neglect.
Karen Ortman 01:51
And what is the unit comprised of? I mean, clearly, it's law enforcement. But who else are members of Special Victims.
Joe Paglione 02:02
So presently, the unit consists of a second supervisor, and six detectives, as well as three assistant prosecutors, victim witness advocates, two of those, a SANE nurse examiner coordinator, as well as multi-disciplinary team coordinator.
Karen Ortman 02:24
So the supervisor you spoke of that's a secondary law enforcement supervisor who reports to you I assume?
Joe Paglione 02:34
Karen Ortman 02:35
Where do people physically go to, to meet with members of the Special Victims Unit?
Joe Paglione 02:41
So our building is located in Trenton, New Jersey. There are other units in this building, for example, Economic Crime and Homicide Unit, but our particular unit is housed on one whole half of this building. It's solely dedicated to the Special Victims Unit.
Karen Ortman 03:00
Is the Special Victims Unit part of a Child Advocacy Center?
Joe Paglione 03:05
Yes, it is. The Child Advocacy Center is a designated office space that's solely for the Special Victims Unit, private entrances. areas where the children are not allowed to go past or other law enforcement there. We try to keep the victims that child victims separate from, for example, officers in complete uniform and things like that we try to keep them we here we're not trying to scare them in any way or make them intimidated in any way. That office is decorated in child themed kinds of things to keep them at ease and in somewhat of a comfort zone.
Karen Ortman 03:54
Sure. And I'm sure that there are no suspects or defendants that ever come in your side of the building in the Child Advocacy Center?
Joe Paglione 04:08
That's right. No suspects of any kind are allowed on this side of the building, victims only.
Karen Ortman 04:17
As the supervisor of Special Victims, what's your background?
Joe Paglione 04:22
So I started in law enforcement about 19 years ago. I was a patrolman in a local municipality for a while. And then I came over to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office about 13 years ago. I was in the Special Victims Unit as a detective for about a year and a half. I was transferred around a little bit narcotics, homicide, things like that and then when I got promoted to Sergeant, my first detail was to come back to the Specialist Special Victims Unit and that was about a year and a half ago now.
Karen Ortman 04:59
So you you mentioned members of your unit. Can you explain what role each member of the unit plays in addressing Special Victims related matters? You spoke of assistant prosecutors, a sexual assault nurse examiner coordinator, I don't know if you mentioned MDT coordinator or multidisciplinary team coordinator, but memory serves there is one there; Victim Witness advocate and then detectives. How do you all function sort of in totality to provide the service that you do?
Joe Paglione 05:44
So detectives, obviously are the men and women that are responding to the calls, physically doing the interviews of the victims, both child and adult. They are the boots on the ground, so to speak, in that they are responding to the police departments, responding to scenes, if there are crime scenes. They are the ones that are responsible for the follow up investigations, pooling video if need be from areas, street corners, or wherever things may have happened. They are the ones that are ultimately responsible for the investigative end of the case. The assistant prosecutors, the attorneys that are assigned to our unit, they are the ones that are responsible for charging decisions on when the time comes what the appropriate charges may be. They're responsible for overseeing the legal end. Say, if the detectives need to compose a search warrant for evidence purposes, they are the ones that are going to present this case to Grand Jury or at trial need to go to trial to prosecute. That is their role in the unit. The SANE coordinator, Sex Assault Nurse Examiner coordinator, she is responsible for certain cases that require the victim to have what's called a SANE exam, which is a medical evaluation for for physical or DNA evidence that may have been left behind as a result of the assault.
Karen Ortman 07:30
So it's a forensic examination?
Joe Paglione 07:32
A forensic examination, yes. And she has nurses, specially trained nurses, that would respond when a when a case comes in that would respond to whatever hospital that victim is at to conduct that forensic examination. And, she is responsible for overseeing those nurses making sure that their paperwork is done correctly, their exams are done correctly, and she runs that aspect of it. Those kits can be held at that point at the local municipality. There are times when they're stored here in our building. And then there are also times when they go directly to the state police laboratory for immediate examination.
Karen Ortman 08:17
And that's typically when of victim or survivor makes it known that they want a police investigation and they want to pursue the investigation.
Joe Paglione 08:30
Yes, that's correct.
Karen Ortman 08:31
And then in instances where a victim says no, I don't know if I want to pursue this, I need time to think about it. That's when they're held, I think you said, ultimately, for five-year period prevent potentially,
Joe Paglione 08:47
Yeah, a five-year period. There's times where, initially a victim might want the exam right away and then as time goes on, and the hours or days after the exam they might not want to pursue it for whatever reason, we still have an obligation to hold that kit or that evidence for five years in case that individual does decide within that period that they want to go forward. Now we have all that preserved DNA evidence to move forward. Should there be any there?
Karen Ortman 09:19
What about an MDT coordinator, multidisciplinary team, what role does that person play?
Joe Paglione 09:27
So the coordinator, we meet regularly between myself, the detectives DCPPs, that'd be Division of Child Protection and Permanency formerly known as DYFS. The Victim Witness advocates, as well as the attorneys meet on a on a regular basis to go over the cases, everyone's involvement, where these cases are in the process, if a case needs additional DCPP involvement if a child or a victim needs additional therapy or medical assistance, everything down to if the person can't even make it from the their doctor's appointments or their therapy sessions, or wherever they need to go, this person helps coordinate all of that between the team and the team that reviews these cases after the fact and while they're ongoing.
Karen Ortman 10:35
Let's talk about the detectives assigned to your unit. What are the skills? What's the background? What are the requirements necessary for a detective in a Special Victims Unit?
Joe Paglione 10:49
So typically, the detectives that come to this unit are highly motivated, self-motivated, very smart, typically, problem solvers. And often not all the time, but oftentimes they are your more senior detective, they're detectives that have either come from other jurisdictions have police experience in other units or other fields have a general expertise in speaking with people, whether it be a suspect or a victim, once they get here, we send them to a school specifically designed or specifically modeled to speak with child victims, that that schools called Finding Words. I believe, a five-day course. and in that course, that detective is taught the proper way to speak to children during the course of investigations.
Karen Ortman 11:54
Got it. And the purpose of that is to make the disclosures of the children as pure as possible without any sort of leading or guidance given by the interviewer, you know, to sort of get the desired response, I would think.
Joe Paglione 12:24
Yes, so whatever that child may have either witnessed or been a victim of, the idea is to gather that information as non-biased as possible so the questions are not leading. Actually the rooms designed for children, so the detective actually sits at a little table in a small chair and speaks with the child who's across from them. And there's a process, there's a systematic way that detectives go about the end result. And oftentimes, I mean, we do an interview, not every interview does not yield a disclosure unfortunately. There may be a time where there's an allegation and it's only an allegation but we do our due diligence, and we do the investigation and the detective does his forensic interview, but there's no disclosure made. So that does happen from time to time. Yeah.
Karen Ortman 13:29
So you use the term forensic interview. What exactly does that mean to somebody who's listening and is unfamiliar with that term?
Joe Paglione 13:40
So it's basically a standardized way to gather information from, take a statement rather, than from a child, that that information if it's done the correct way, the child does not have to be re interviewed by another agency or come time for court purposes. That information was gathered in a way that it was done proper. It wasn't. It wasn't leading, we didn't we didn't say certain names that to the child, the child gave us all of that information without us giving them the information that we already knew. And in essence would stand up to scrutiny in court or should. Ultimately, yes.
Karen Ortman 14:28
What is the difference between a detective assigned to Special Victims and a detective assigned to a municipal police department in your county?
Joe Paglione 14:41
Probably the biggest difference is that my detective and detectives in the SVU only handle Special Victims cases so we're only dealing with crimes against children or adult victims of sexual assault. Whereas a detective in a municipality may be handling an SVU type job one day, and a burglary to an auto the next, or were a robbery or they were handling the whole gamut of what a normal police department would handle on a on a daily basis.
Karen Ortman 15:20
Can you speak to your unit’s response once a crime has been reported? So, you know, a victim contacts or calls 911 and dispatch at some point reaches out to someone in your unit? How does it work from the case inception through to resolution, whatever that might be?
Joe Paglione 15:50
So there's a there's a couple of different ways that we would handle investigations right from the get go. For example, let's say like kind of what you're saying someone was assaulted, a stranger on stranger kind of thing. The victim once the attack was over, picks up his or her cell phone and calls 911. Well, the municipality would arrive on scene initially first, the victim would then be taken to an area hospital and physical evidence would try to be preserved as quickly as possible should the victim not need other medical attention. The crime scene would be located and preserved. And then at that point, we would be out there with the local municipalities and knocking on doors, looking for eyewitnesses pulling video, whatever physical evidence could be preserved and obtained, that's what we would do. The victim once they undergo their SANE exam and they're able to, we would immediately take a formal statement from that individual. If they were not able to, we would gather as much information as we could from them at the hospital and while they either continued with medical treatment or rested, we would begin our investigation with all the information that we had at that point. If it was a past tense event, which happens just as much might get reported things that happened years or months or weeks ago, then that we would set up a date and time to have an interview with the person to gather all the information we can and proceed from there.
Karen Ortman 17:44
Do the same detectives and assistant prosecutors handle the case from inception through to ultimate disposal whether that's through a conviction, a play or dismissal? Is it the same group of people handling the case from beginning to end?
Joe Paglione 18:09
Yes, for the most part, the detective would respond to the scene or or the police department and begin his or her investigation. During that time the detective would contact the prosecutor that was on call for that particular day or evening and they would immediately begin going over the case; what we have what we don't have what we need. If the assistant prosecutor okayed charges to be done right then and there, they would they would provide us with the most accurate charges for this particular investigation, the suspect would be charged and proceed on their end of it more justice side, and in the meanwhile the assistant prosecutor and detective, they will be continuing on with that case whether it be going to Grand Jury going to trial or oftentimes examination of phones need to be completed, which is usually after the fact for whatever evidence might still be on the phone.
Karen Ortman 19:17
Okay. How do you handle child victims differently than adult victims?
Joe Paglione 19:24
So child victims are handled - so a child 12 years and under would be a forensic interview that we spoke about earlier and that interview would be always video recorded. Okay? 13 years and older, those interviews would be done on paper, a paper a style interview or statement and those interviews sometimes can be done at a police department or sometimes there's they're done here at our Advocacy Center.
Karen Ortman 19:59
Is there a preference to have them done at the Advocacy Center?
Joe Paglione 20:03
Yeah, we prefer to. Even though that those statements can be done, by protocol, at a police department we prefer to do them here at the Advocacy Center just because we're better equipped and we're better designed to, even though the children are still a little older now, their adolescent, we're still better equipped to handle them here in our building. So we typically only do those statements at the police department if we have to for logistical reasons.
Karen Ortman 20:34
And I'm sure it's much more, much less intimidating to have a child come to the Advocacy Center.
Joe Paglione 20:46
It's a much more conducive environment.
Karen Ortman 20:51
How you mentioned Cornerhouse Earlier Finding Words, how else are your detectives trained differently than other detectives in your office, like those assigned to homicide, narcotics or the juvenile unit.
Joe Paglione 21:07
So the detectives that are assigned in other units get a get training in a variety of other things that encompass that may encompass their job, whereas our detectives, primarily only attend trainings or on the job training service that just deal with victims or child victims more particularly. That would probably be the biggest difference. We don't typically cross train. While you're why you're assigned to this unit and why you're in this unit, we wouldn't be sending you to another type of training for another type of specialty. We solely focus if it doesn't involve or if the training doesn't calculate something with child victims or victims in general, or interviewing tactics. We wouldn't be involved in it.
Karen Ortman 22:00
What if a victim finds it too distressing to talk to a municipal detective in the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred? Can they instead report directly to a detective in your unit in special victims and make a report with one of your people?
Joe Paglione 22:25
Yes, absolutely. They can. It's as simple as they could walk through the front door and say that they're here and they want to speak to someone in a Special Victims Unit and we would we would bring them back and begin to figure out what is going on and what needs to be done.
Karen Ortman 22:43
The term SVU was popularized by NBC Law & Order Special Victims Unit, a hit TV show based on the New York Police Department's Special Victims division, which investigates sex crimes and child abuse. So not only are you the real law & order, SVU? How realistic is this show as compared to a real life Special Victims Unit?
Joe Paglione 23:16
Well, I would say that the the main comparison between what we do and what we do here every day and the show, SVU would probably be the crimes that they portray in the show against people, against victims. A lot of the crimes that they depict in the show we see on a on a somewhat daily basis. As far as how they go about solving the crime, it's a show, right? You know, we don't solve everything in...
Karen Ortman 23:51
...everything doesn't have DNA?
Joe Paglione 23:53
No. DNA is not on all over the place. There's not always the camera that catches the hatches the crime in the act. Oftentimes we have to dig and dig and dig and these cases can go on for months or years before a crime is solved if at all.
Karen Ortman 24:14
Yeah. Okay. Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven't asked you today?
Joe Paglione 24:23
Just that the guys and girls that are doing this job here every day are really really dedicated people; to their jobs and to the victims that they're trying to protect and advocate for. It's a you know, we are a 24 seven 365 day operation, we don't not close down and they are overworked and they are running like crazy people doing everything they can to to solve these crimes and to help people as best they can with tools that they have, how does
Karen Ortman 25:02
How does it not take a toll on you? An emotional toll, especially where children are concerned?
Joe Paglione 25:08
Well, so I can't say that it doesn't. So everyone here I always say in this unit, whether it be one year, two years, five years; everyone has a shelf life and everyone is different. And, you can only deal with this subject matter for so long before you either become numb to it, which I don't think it's very good, or starts to affect you, which I don't think is very good. So you do the best you can and you do as much help as you can and when it's time to move on you move on and you get some fresh faces and, and you go from there, but it's you can't do it forever and we can be human.
Karen Ortman 25:52
Agreed. Well, thank you for all that you do.
Joe Paglione 25:58
Karen Ortman 25:59
Not only in law enforcement and the 19 years you served but for victims in Mercer County, New Jersey. I appreciate it.
Joe Paglione 26:12
Thank you very much. It's our pleasure.
Karen Ortman 26:13
Yes, thank you to my guest Sergeant Paglione and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of you matter if any information presented today was triggering or disturbing. Please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like and subscribe to You Matter on Apple podcasts Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.