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Back to Archives | Back to October 2007 Contents 

Launching a National Strategy for Enhancing Response to Victims: A Logical Next Step in Community Policing

By Suzanne Jordan, Project Manager, Enhancing Police Response to Victims (EPRV); Irina Romashkan, Program Coordinator; and Serena Werner, Project Assistant, IACP, Alexandria, Virginia

Traditionally, law enforcement views its role as detecting, finding, and apprehending criminals. This strategy provides an opportunity to focus on the victims of crime, assist them in their current situation, and, hopefully, empower them. A large percentage of the people law enforcement comes into contact with are crime victims, and those individuals live and work in the communities we serve. It only makes sense to enhance services to those citizens, as they are a core constituency. Law enforcement exists to support the community, not the other way around. Those agencies that acknowledge victims as such will be recognized as leaders in their profession.

—Chief Raymond J. Rose,
Mundelein, Ill., Police Department

he law enforcement community has historically focused on the apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators, and although state laws define the rights and redress of victims of crime—such as the right to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect; to be informed and present throughout the entire criminal justice process; to be reasonably protected from the accused; and to be entitled to seek restitution—these individuals are very often neglected in the criminal justice system.

Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims: A 21st Century Strategy,1 developed by the IACP with funding from and in close collaboration with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) at the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, is intended to assist the U.S. law enforcement community in embracing a philosophy that places crime victims’ interests and needs at the zenith of response to crime and community problem solving (see figure 1 for cover image).

Enhanced Victim Response Pilot Study

In developing the strategy, the IACP actively sought input from the field by engaging a national multidisciplinary advisory group and holding four national information-gathering forums comprising law enforcement leaders and trainers, victim advocates and service providers, and victims of crime. Input garnered from these efforts established the foundation for development of the draft document published in 2005 and subsequently field tested at three pilot sites, representing large, medium, and small local law enforcement agencies.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, represented large agencies; Beaverton, Oregon, medium-sized agencies; and Mundelein, Illinois, smaller police departments. Each pilot site played a pivotal role in putting theory into practice by working with the IACP to implement draft strategy concepts, tailor their approaches, and document successes and challenges. Their contagious enthusiasm, hard work, and strong commitment as well as their vision, support, and direction resulted in not only the development of the new strategy but, more importantly, the creation of enhanced service environments and opportunities for crime victims in their jurisdictions.

Believing they were already meeting a majority of crime victims’ needs, the pilot agencies initially viewed this project as a way to validate their existing efforts. What they learned is that every law enforcement agency, even if already actively applying a community-policing approach, can significantly advance its response to victims of crime without expending an enormous amount of additional resources.

Even though the three pilot agencies took different approaches, the commonalities of issues and the lessons they learned far outweigh any geographical or organizational differences among them—an extremely encouraging sign, suggesting that the strategies they developed are versatile enough that any agency serving any community could adapt to fit its needs.

Enhancing victim response proved to be a continuous and evolving process, but even in the early stages of implementing the new strategies, the pilot agencies began to see the benefits of their efforts. Specifically, they improved their policies, procedures, training, and other mission-specific matters which can consume precious time and resources that may be better spent investigating and solving crimes.

7 Critical Needs of Victims
Pilot Study Results

Based on critical lessons learned from the pilot process, the IACP finalized the draft strategy and developed two companion documents: the “Implementation Guide,” which provides operational “how-to” approaches, and the “Resource Toolkit,” containing sample documents, materials, and customizable templates developed by the pilot sites.2

Whereas the final strategy will be introduced to law enforcement leaders at the 114th Annual IACP Conference in New Orleans, the other two documents are still available in draft format and will be further validated at eight additional sites, including a broader variety of environments and functions to include state, county, municipal, college, and university law enforcement agencies. Their findings will allow for the completion of the entire package and make it available for national implementation.

In a concise format, the strategy introduces state, local, and tribal law enforcement leaders to the concepts of enhancing their response to crime victims. It highlights multiple benefits of implementing the strategy as well as some possible challenges and ways to overcome them. The document outlines seven critical needs of victims law enforcement must address (see text box below)3 and specifies the four core areas of the strategy: leadership, partnering, training, and performance monitoring. It details the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel, from executives to the newest recruits, as well as the importance of broad partnerships extending beyond traditional allies to encompass faith communities, businesses, volunteer groups, and civic and community organizations.

Benefits of Enhanced Victim Response

Even though crime victims and members of their families will clearly be the primary beneficiaries of enhanced response to their needs, law enforcement agencies, along with other criminal justice entities, stand to gain in many ways from implementing the strategy.

In times of reduced budgets and increased service demands, one major benefit is improved investigation and follow-up. Depending on the environment and the circumstances, victims who believe they have been treated with empathy and respect are more likely to cooperate with law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals and make efforts to minimize their risk of revictimization.

One of the challenges we encountered at the beginning of this program was establishing buy-in from our officers. Although the struggle is ongoing, the officers are becoming more accepting of the changes as they see the benefits the changes provide. As with any undertaking that involves an entire law enforcement agency, there must be continuous dedication of time, resources, and commitment from the leaders within the agency.

—Chief David G. Bishop,
Beaverton, Oregon, Police Department

Enhanced response to victims offers several other opportunities to increase efficiency and effectiveness in law enforcement agencies. By treating victims’ issues as a high priority, agencies create an environment for better leadership and innovation, reinforced focus on law enforcement responsibilities, increased morale and job satisfaction, and greater cooperation and appreciation by citizens and victims.

Expansion of partnerships with victim service providers results in better referrals to supportive services, improved awareness of victim and community expectations of law enforcement, and increased understanding of training needs; these are just some of the benefits of strategy implementation that the pilot agencies reported in their results.

Challenges to Implementation

Implementing the strategy for enhancing response to victims requires changing some of the values, attitudes, and protocols that compose the current organization of law enforcement agencies. Such alterations will, of course, create challenges that can be categorized as internal, external, and resource factors.

Examples of internal challenges may include competing law enforcement priorities, convincing all agency personnel to buy into the changes, limited training resources, insufficient information about victim service providers, communication with and service gaps in culturally diverse populations, and difficulties in measuring success.

Among the external challenges, the pilot agencies listed competing goals between victims, law enforcement, and criminal justice partners; limitations of victim services; differences between service provider and law enforcement perspectives; and lack of services for victims of nonviolent crimes.

It is also important to note that although not all key elements of the strategy require additional resources to implement, law enforcement executives should anticipate that reallocating or acquiring supplemental funds may be necessary to enable its full implementation.

The strategy not only describes all of the above benefits and challenges but also provides recommendations and practical approaches for achieving and addressing them through the four core elements that form the foundation of the enhanced response to victims, mentioned earlier.

The Role of Law Enforcement Leaders

Since law enforcement executives play a pivotal role in the success of this effort, it is critical that they buy into and commit to the strategy from the earliest stages of implementation. By working to define intermediate and long-range victim response outcomes and providing continuous feedback to their staff, executives can effectively guide their organizations toward long-term success.

Law enforcement leaders interested in enhancing victim response should take the following actions:

  • Highlight the benefits of enhanced response to victims and emphasize that every member of the force has a role to play

  • Incorporate enhanced victim response strategies into the agency’s vision, mission, core values, policies, and procedures

  • Initiate, develop, and support departmental infrastructure that reinforces this priority

  • Enhance and/or expand available victim response training for all personnel

  • Foster ongoing communication and viable partnerships with victim service providers and other community partners

  • Incorporate victim response goals into personnel performance appraisals

  • Sustain long-term departmental commitment to enhancing response to victims

Partners in Victim Response

Meeting the full spectrum of victims’ needs requires the collaboration and commitment of many stakeholders, including crime victims themselves, victim service providers and advocacy organizations, criminal and juvenile justice agencies, human service and health-care practitioners, school systems, elected officials, businesses, faith communities, the media, and community residents. All of these stakeholders can contribute their expertise to the process.

For all partners, communication is vital. Law enforcement agencies cannot use or benefit from services or organizations with which they are not familiar. Positive collaboration and an understanding of and value for each partner’s role are of utmost importance for an effective relationship.

Although the basic, critical needs of victims remain constant, the ways in which law enforcement can effectively respond will change as technology, crime analysis, investigation techniques, and resources evolve. Thus, at all career stages and levels, agencies should require ongoing training that provides victim response skills, knowledge, and tools. Rather than being offered as specialized or stand-alone training available only to select audiences, victim response training should be integrated into all basic and advanced law enforcement curricula and should be multidisciplinary when necessary. While developing training materials, agencies should bear in mind that different victims have different needs and circumstances.

Victim service providers can be valuable contributors of training resources, including informing law enforcement personnel about the availability of and access to their services. “Sit-alongs” with service providers will allow law enforcement agencies to observe these partners at work. Ride-alongs provide an additional opportunity to foster the relationship, by helping providers better understand the duties of law enforcement.

Establishing Victim Response Goals

A recently published performance measurement guide for law enforcement leaders emphasizes that “it is only by clearly articulating the objectives of agencies, understanding the current environment within which they operate, establishing baseline measures on critical factors related to the overall success in meeting agency objectives, and constantly measuring the impact of agency actions taken to achieve defined objectives that we can be effective.”4

Collecting baseline information about the current status of victim response in the jurisdictions of the three pilot agencies was the first important step in the pilot study. Based on the information they gathered, they were able to define their enhanced victim response goals; establish links between the goals; and determine required resources, strategies, and approaches as well as expected short-term effects and long-range outcomes.

Monitoring progress toward enhanced victim response goals will not necessarily require significant new investment in data collection and analysis, but it may entail looking at information already gathered for other purposes in new and innovative ways.


Building upon the four core areas, the strategy identifies roles and maps out responsibilities within an organization. Key to this approach is the understanding that all of a law enforcement agency’s employees play a vital role in making their department optimally responsive to victims’ needs.

Some agencies may not dedicate specific personnel to all of the roles listed in the strategy, but the relevant responsibilities most likely compose some employee’s job description. Also, in some jurisdictions, a consolidated agency operating independently of a local department may be responsible for certain functions, such as dispatch, for example.

In any organizational structure, the individuals responding to crime victims have the power through their attitudes and actions to maximize their agency’s effectiveness in each of the four core areas of the strategy.

This initiative is not simply the creation of a separate victim unit but an integrated and inclusive effort that will extend to all branches and levels of law enforcement.

The importance of fully engaging this concept cannot be understated. Like the community policing philosophy, enhancing our response to victims needs to be driven by law enforcement in a way that enables the community to eventually become the primary champion of this cause.

—Chief Darrel W. Stephens,
Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.,
Police Department

Responding effectively and appropriately to all types of crime victims not only is the right thing to do for victims, their families, and communities but also is in the best interests of the law enforcement community. When crime victims perceive that they have been treated with compassion, fairness, and respect, they are more likely to cooperate in the investigation of the crime committed against them, making an agency’s job easier at first response and as cases progress through the justice system.

After testing the strategy at the three pilot sites, it has become clear that enhanced victim response is the next logical step in community policing, and, more importantly, that it works. By enacting this strategy, law enforcement agencies and their leaders will have not only provided victims with the best possible treatment but also improved the likelihood that their organizations will become better equipped to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators.■


1International Association of Chiefs of Police, Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims: A 21st Century Strategy (Alexandria, Va.: IACP, 2007).
2As of this writing, the “Implementation Guide” and “Resource Toolkit” are still in draft form and not yet generally available. In their final form, they will be included with Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims.
3International Association of Chiefs of Police, What Do Victims Want? Effective Strategies to Achieve Justice for Victims of Crime (Alexandria, Va.: IACP, 2000), iii.
4David J. Roberts (Search Institute), Law Enforcement Tech Guide for Creating Performance Measures That Work: A Guide for Executives and Managers (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2006), 5, 19.



From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 10, October 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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