By John R. Firman, Director of Research, IACP
s the first ones on the scene of a crime, police officers are also often the first responders to the victims of crimes. This places a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of officers, who already have a critical job to do, to act as the initial service providers to victims who are in a situation they never anticipated. These initial encounters can shape a victim’s experience with the entire criminal justice system, and law enforcement’s response to victims can have a far-reaching impact on the effectiveness of victim services.
In May 2013, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), part of the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice, released Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services Final Report. The goal of the Vision 21 initiative was to permanently transform the way victims of crime are treated in the United States. The Vision 21 initiative engaged a broad spectrum of stakeholder participants, including law enforcement, victim service providers, advocates, criminal justice professionals, allied practitioners, and policymakers. Working together, these stakeholders had an opportunity to address crime victim issues through a lens broader than their own daily work. The Vision 21 discussions and research centered on four topics: (1) defining the role of the crime victims field in the overall response to crime and delinquency in the United States; (2) building the field’s capacity to better serve victims; (3) addressing enduring issues in the field; and (4) identifying emerging issues in the field. The initiative identified:
- the major challenges to integrating research into the victim services field;
- the tremendous need for access to legal assistance for crime victims to address the wide range of legal issues that often arise following victimization;
- the impact of technological advances, increasing globalization, and changing demographics on the victim assistance field; and
- the capacity for serving victims in the 21st century and some of the infrastructure issues that must be overcome to reach that capacity.
Vision 21 participants expressed an urgent need to expand the knowledge base about crime victimization and effective response. They viewed research, development of evidence-based practices, and program evaluation as the foundation of successful victim service policies and practices. As the victim services field competes for scarce resources, it must have the knowledge and tools to document the value and cost effectiveness of its services. The highest priority of Vision 21 is promoting evidence-based strategies and programs that will expand the profession’s fundamental understanding of who is affected by crime, how they are affected, what works to help victims recover from trauma, and what other issues affect the delivery of services to victims and the protection of their legal rights. These key concerns lay the foundation and set a clear tone for all other Vision 21 recommendations.
One of the major findings contained in the Victim 21 report is that crime victim services must be designed with a clear understanding of who is victimized and by whom. In support of this finding, the report recommends expanding the use of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to complete a system of police administrative records describing crimes, victims, and police responses to victimization. This information will facilitate a greater understanding of the specific types of victimization and subgroups of victims who are not being identified by victim surveys. The data will also allow comparison between victims known to law enforcement with those being served by victim service agencies to more readily identify underserved groups.
A growing number of law enforcement agencies report crime to NIBRS, which is good news for the victim services community. Local data about crime victims and those who commit crimes against them can be instrumental in providing sound reasoning to justify and deploy scarce resources, to fine-tune training programs, and to support targeted research. While the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) summary data include incidents and arrests for the eight Part I index crimes and arrests for others, NIBRS captures information on each victim and offender in 22 categories of crime. The categories are further divided into subclassifications, yielding victim information for 46 offenses. When law enforcement agencies report NIBRS data, community service providers and researchers can examine complex relationships in crime, victimization, and arrest practices by relying on an expanded range of variables. Further, NIBRS is a nonhierarchical system that captures and reports on each crime in an incident instead of deferring to the most serious crime committed.
NIBRS reports the place where an incident occurs (such as in a home, field, woods, bar or nightclub, hotel, etc.), the age of the victim(s), time of day of the offense, clearance rates of forcible sex offenses, and information regarding the use of weapons in violent crimes. This reporting provides critical data for communities committed to understanding and addressing issues of crime and victimization.
The Vision 21 initiative highlights the importance of having more law enforcement agencies report crime to NIBRS to capitalize on the wealth of information it collects. In the nearly 30 years since the initial recommendation to implement NIBRS, only 32 percent of UCR reporting agencies are NIBRS reporters, covering only 28 percent of the U.S. population. While a number of states have complete NIBRS coverage, the lack of nationally representative data substantially impedes federal efforts to assist states and localities in crime control and undermines state and local interests in considering their crime experience in a broader national context. How does this translate on the street? More data leads to more research, which leads to more effective tools to help law enforcement better serve victims of crime.
OVC enthusiastically supports the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) National Crime Statistics Exchange (NSC-X) Project, which aims to increase the level of local, state, and tribal criminal justice agency participation in NIBRS reporting. NCS-X will emphasize the importance of making reliable national estimates in a very short period of time and place a premium on returning meaningful information and analytical support to the law enforcement community. Simultaneously, the NCS-X Project will support the delivery of high-quality training and technical assistance to state, local, and tribal criminal justice agencies; establish collaborative partnerships across agencies, disciplines, and jurisdictions; and implement policies and practices that allow replication of technological solutions to criminal justice system problems across the United States.
OVC’s commitment to enhancing the landscape of what is known about crime victims, victimization, and services available to assist victims recover from their experiences is exemplified in its support of the expansion of the National Crime Victim Survey. OVC provided funding to BJS to expand this data collection beyond simply counting the number of crime victims to collecting more descriptive information about victims, the services they receive, and their reasons for accessing those services. The research will help identify the service gaps that are shared anecdotally, but have never been well documented empirically.
Additionally, OVC is supporting BJS’ efforts to conduct the National Survey of Victim Service Organizations to understand more about the operational and organizational capacity of agencies that provide victim services to effectively respond to and support victims.
Vision 21 stakeholders clearly identified research and information gathering as indispensable to the future of the victim services field in order to continue to grow the capacity of providers to help crime victims rebuild their lives. Using scientifically sound and evidence-based programs and services can become the norm for the 21st century victim service provider, who will play a pivotal role in data collection and program evaluation to bring about a meaningful, lasting transformation of the victim services field. ♦
Please cite as:
John R. Firman, “Vision 21: Transforming Victim Services,” Research in Brief, The Police Chief 80 (December 2013): 12–13.