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Back to Archives | Back to October 2007 Contents 

Lessons Learned from Field-Testing the Strategy for Enhancing Response to Victims

By Darrel W. Stephens, Chief of Police, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, Police Department; David G. Bishop, Chief of Police, Beaverton, Oregon, Police Department; and Raymond J. Rose, Chief of Police, Mundelein, Illinois, Police Department


n early 2006, the IACP selected three different-sized police departments to pilot-test the concepts presented in the draft national strategy designed to enhance victim response, which was released in October 2005.1

Guided by the document and with assistance and support from the IACP, all three sites implemented similar strategy methods. This included appointing an “executive sponsor” (deputy or assistant chief in charge of leading the initiative), creating a leadership team (or a steering committee), and determining baseline data collection points and approaches; analyzing data and identifying trends and actionable ideas; and developing and implementing an action plan. Assessment was a continuous process by which the pilot agencies learned from missteps, built on successes, and identified new areas in which they could improve their response to victims of crime. The chief of each department lent his unqualified support to the project.

Although the departments vary significantly in size and their approaches were different in scope and detail, the challenges and successes they experienced were quite similar.


Callout
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Experience

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) in North Carolina represented the large-agency pilot site. This department, with more than 2,000 employees, serves a population of 715,000 over 450 square miles. The department was well into its second decade of community policing when it joined the project. Deputy Chief Gerald Sennett has been appointed the executive sponsor to lead the effort for the agency.

The CMPD formed a leadership team consisting of personnel who possessed the enthusiasm to implement longlasting changes in every area of the department, including command staff, line officers, investigations, academy personnel, support services, and the communications bureau. The team was charged with organizing an assessment phase, which was intended to ascertain and evaluate how and to what extent the department was currently responding to victims’ needs.

Baseline data collection included a telephone survey, developed by the leadership team with input from IACP staff and consultants, of 500 victims of nonviolent crimes. In addition, the department organized focus groups and interviews of internal and external stakeholders such as sworn and nonsworn personnel, victim service organizations, and actual victims of crime.

When the department had collected this input and other information, the leadership team identified several problem areas and set about developing ways to improve the department’s response to victims. Team members found that victims were more often interested in being validated, acknowledged, and heard than concerned about the actual apprehension of their perpetrators. Additionally, the assessment brought up two major issues of inconsistent practice: victim follow-up and delivery of information.

To alleviate the problem with victim follow-up, the department developed a standard operating procedure dictating that all criminal cases be assigned an officer who is to follow up with the victim within a certain period of time (usually the initial reporting officer, unless the case is reassigned to an investigative unit).

To address the inconsistent delivery of information, the CMPD developed and provided templates to telephone reporting operators at the Crime Reporting Unit. The Crime Reporting Unit takes thousands of reports monthly, and the accuracy of the information needed to be improved. The new templates enabled better reporting.

Further steps the agency took included additional tools for officers and victims. The department developed a pamphlet for victims that explains their complaint number, provides contact information for the reporting officer and victim services, and informs victims how to access their crime reports. The CMPD has also redeveloped its Web site to include a victim access section. Finally, the department has revamped its performance evaluation to emphasize accomplishments in the area of victim services.

The CMPD noted several challenges in the process of enhancing response to victims, which came primarily from the gathering of baseline data. Although the department reported enthusiastic cooperation from its personnel, attendance at the violent-crime victim focus groups was low, thereby making it difficult for the department to obtain useful information. The department suggests to other agencies embarking on this strategy to develop creative ways to glean information from relevant parties. For instance, a detective calling robbery victims to invite them to a focus group found that although many declined to attend, they were willing to speak candidly to him over the telephone about their experiences.


Beaverton Statement
The Beaverton Experience

The Beaverton Police Department (BPD) in Oregon, the medium-sized pilot site, enjoys the benefits of a strong community and financial backing for the police department. Similar to the CMPD, the BPD is committed to community policing in its overall philosophy and day-to-day operations.

Citing the importance of leadership participation and commitment, the department leadership lent its complete support to the project. At the project’s inception, a letter was sent to every employee in the agency explaining the importance of this initiative. Further emphasizing the department’s commitment to the project was an amended mission statement that reflected support of and response to crime victims.

The BPD formed a 19-member leadership team comprising all levels and programs in the department as well as representatives from victim service providers, the district attorney’s office, and dispatch. The team was then divided into subcommittees representing the four core areas of the strategy: leadership, partnering, training, and performance monitoring. The process of developing an enhanced response to victims in Beaverton was similar to that used by the CMPD: the leadership team gathered baseline data and developed an action plan based on what it learned.

Holding victim focus groups proved to be the most challenging part of implementing the strategy, but the department developed innovative ways to improve their victim response through input from both internal and external focus groups with employees and victim service providers, as well as a written public survey. The BPD found that the project itself improved its relationships with victim service providers by demonstrating commitment to the well-being of community members. To further this cooperation, the BPD hosted a victim service provider symposium, to which 125 organizations were invited. Community partner agencies’ representatives in attendance had a candid and positive dialogue about the possibilities of improving both the department’s and service providers’ response to victims. A second such symposium, held five months later, proved to be even more successful, based upon increased interaction and information-sharing opportunities among the attendees as well as an expressed desire to hold these symposia on a continuing basis.

The department analyzed and studied the information gathered from the focus groups and the symposia. Common themes included the need to define the role of officers and other personnel in victim response, accurate and up-to-date victim service provider information, education for community members on victims’ rights, and department training and performance evaluations that emphasize the importance of the enhanced victim response.

As a result, the department expanded its victims’ assistance curriculum by 50 percent for mandatory training teams in 2007. Victim service partners and the district attorney will present a four-hour segment several times throughout the year on victim empathy and restraining and stalking orders. The training sergeant also presents victim’s rights information required by statute and its facilitation through the use of a wallet card. The department continues to explore curricula from other agencies to develop future training segments to enhance its response to victims.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Quote
The Mundelein Experience

The Mundelein Police Department (MPD), located in the Illinois suburbs of Chicago, represents the smallest of the pilot agencies, with a population of about 33,000. MPD personnel consist mostly of officers in their twenties and thirties who have been practicing community policing since 2000.

The MPD began strategy implementation by creating a steering committee that included representatives of all parts of the agency. Department personnel reported that all employees, sensing the opportunity to effect a real change in policies and procedures for their agency, were eager to participate. The MPD accurately called this phenomenon a “natural buy-in.” Not only did this initiative engender support from everyone in the department, but it also logically placed the people who would be implementing the strategy in a position to accomplish this goal.

The committee identified information, access, support, and continuity as critical needs of victims. It also began to organize focus groups and surveys to obtain baseline data on victim response. Like the other pilot agencies, Mundelein had a low turnout in the victim focus groups. Nevertheless, the department, with the help of a project consultant and the partnership of Mundelein High School, hosted two days of focus groups for victims of violent and nonviolent crimes, with 20 participants in attendance.

The steering committee made a special point to reach out to the substantial Latino population in the Village of Mundelein. Spanish-speaking officers personally contacted hundreds of Latino crime victims to solicit their participation in the focus groups. The department also partnered with Latino churches and handed out flyers after services.

Despite low attendance, in light of the department’s extensive efforts to maximize citizen participation, the committee was pleased with the information the department garnered from the focus groups. Similar to the other pilot agencies, the MPD found that victims were generally pleased with first contact from officers but that follow-up was lacking. Crime victims complained that they did not always know the status of their cases as they proceeded through the justice system and that they were frustrated by the lack of follow-up contacts.

“Consider whether enhancing response to victims is something you can afford not to do.”

—Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina,
Police Department strategy findings

In Mundelein, surveys proved to be a much more successful way of gathering information. The committee developed two data collection instruments: a public safety survey and a victim response survey. The public safety surveys were sent out to 2,000 households during the month of January 2007 and closed for tabulation February 1. Recipient addresses were obtained from a random selection of the Village of Mundelein Finance Department’s water bill data. With 700 surveys collected for tabulation, this meant an encouraging 35 percent rate of return. As an ongoing process, the victim response surveys are sent to individuals approximately six months after their victimization to obtain customer survey evaluation and feedback regarding the MPD’s response to their needs.

The department created a victim assistance notification form to expedite connecting crime victims to service providers, with copies for the victim, officer’s report, service provider, and department records. A modified version of the form, with an English-language copy on the top for officers and a Spanish-language copy for the victim, is available for Spanish-speaking victims.

In examining information on the victim services offered at the time, the steering committee found that immediate improvements were possible. For instance, whereas thorough and complete procedures were standard for such serious offenses as sexual assault, homicide, and domestic violence, officers were neglecting standard procedures for less-serious offenses. To correct this situation, the department reinvested in its effort to ensure that officers followed proper standard operating procedure for every crime, even nonviolent ones.

The MPD is currently in the process of reevaluating all of its policies, procedures, and training to include victim services elements. The department is expanding the type of victim service providers who partner with them already to include those providing services to persons with mental illness and the disabled, as well as school counselors and clergy.


Additional Lessons Learned

All three pilot agency leaders were very pleased with the IACP-supported Strategy for Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims and its initial impact on department members and the community. Implementing this strategy can improve not only the lives of victims in our communities but also the level of officer job satisfaction.

The following list provides some additional examples of innovations in the area of enhanced victim response that one or more pilot agencies implemented:

  • Revised mission statements to reflect a renewed focus on victim response, including compassion as a core value

  • New and updated relevant policies, procedures, and general orders to address a wide range of victim-related issues, including stalking, domestic violence generally, and domestic-violence incidents involving police officers

  • Revised personnel performance evaluations to include measures related to the quality of victim response

  • Partner symposia to inform victim service providers and other community partners about the department’s victim response efforts and to expand existing relationships and build new ones

  • Ride-along and “sit-along” opportunities between law enforcement and victim service providers and other community partners to increase understanding of each other’s duties and to enhance rapport between police and service providers

  • Shared training opportunities and participation in a variety of meetings and training sessions dealing with victim response issues, leading to community recognition of the department’s willingness to get involved in events not traditionally attended by law enforcement representatives

  • Victim service provider resource directories on agency desktops and mobile data computers

  • Pocket cards for distribution to crime victims, which include key phone numbers for victim service providers and other justice system agencies

  • A victim assistance liaison position to serve as the key link among the department, victims, and victim service providers

  • Roll call, field service, and other in-house training on such topics as initial response; victim interviewing; primary-aggressor issues; appropriate referrals; report distribution; explaining the criminal justice process to victims; the crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse; and crimes involving children, as well as ways to access translation services for non–English speakers

  • Expanded academy victim response training for new recruits, woven into existing curricula rather than presented as a stand-alone course of instruction for select audiences

  • Surveys to measure the extent of victimization in a jurisdiction and to learn more about why some victims fail to report crimes

  • Testing potential changes in victim response procedures through monitoring projects to better understand how much time it takes to make victim follow-up calls and to assess whether victims would prefer that officers rather than volunteers make these calls

  • Serving the needs of victims whose cases will not be prosecuted by working closely with the district attorney’s offices to develop a system connecting these victims quickly with service providers

  • Strengthening the department’s relationship with Hispanic/Latino communities, which may be reluctant to report crimes because of fears of federal immigration enforcement

Incorporating the strategy concepts into all aspects of these three organizations has taken leadership, vision, commitment, perseverance, and creativity. Nonetheless, in just a little over 12 months, these agencies were able to achieve measurable improvements in the core elements of the strategy. We urge law enforcement leaders to adopt and implement the strategy for enhancing law enforcement response to victims—not only for the sake of victims and community members, but for agency personnel as well.■


Note:

1This draft document, initially titled “Enhancing Police Response to Victims: A 21st Century Strategy for State and Local Law Enforcement,” has been finalized and renamed Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims: A 21st Century Strategy for publication purposes. For more on this final version, see the article by Jordan et al. on pages 44–50.


Stalking Protocol Guides in the Philadelphia Police Department

By Mary Lou Leary, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime

In 2002, the Philadelphia Police Department began working with the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center to develop a protocol for officers conducting stalking cases. The department formed a partnership with the district attorney’s office and local victim advocates, seeking—by piloting a model protocol in one division—to craft a workable set of permanent procedures for stalking cases. The resulting protocol, officially implemented in 2006, charts a course for law enforcement in Philadelphia as well as in other communities.

The protocol states the department’s commitment to accurately report and aggressively investigate all reports of stalking and to ensure that all officers understand the crime and take proper action when stalking is identified. Officers should also understand the links and distinctions between harassment and stalking, look for patterns of conduct, and take victims’ fears seriously.

Offering specific guidance to all department officers about stalking, the protocol lists questions officers should ask complainants and advice to offer victims about security measures. It requires supervisors to analyze line officers’ reports for completeness, accuracy, and correct coding. It also details the steps that victim assistance officers—who are assigned to assist crime victims in each precinct—should take when investigating a possible stalking incident. Finally, the policy describes the roles and responsibilities of the department’s domestic-violence detectives in cases that involve stalking.

The collaboration and learning that produced the protocol have continued even after the protocol took effect. The Stalking Resource Center developed a curriculum and trained Philadelphia Police Department trainers on domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault and their corresponding protocols. The department trainers, in turn, train lieutenants and sergeants, who then train their officers. As the training has advanced, the protocol has gained momentum and support.

The Philadelphia Police Department has given its officers—and their colleagues throughout the country—a blueprint to respond to stalking and a powerful tool to combat this challenging crime. For more information about law enforcement responses to stalking, visit http://www.ncvc.org/src/, or call the Stalking Resource Center at 202-467-8700.



Snitches Get Stitches: Youth, Gangs, and Witness Intimidation in Massachusetts

By Mary Lou Leary, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime

It’s a familiar story in cities across the United States. A gun goes off in a crowded place—maybe a street festival or a nightclub—and someone is killed. When police officers question the bystanders, they are told that nobody saw anything. The investigation bogs down, and prosecutors cannot build a strong case because witnesses are afraid to “snitch.” The justice system is undermined, and criminals continue their violent control of entire neighborhoods.

The National Center for Victims of Crime recently published a first-of-its-kind survey of Massachusetts urban teens, young adults, and criminal justice officials about their experiences with gang-related crime and witness intimidation. The face-to-face interviews yielded the following key findings:

  • Youths had a high rate of exposure to crimes through direct victimization, witnessing, and peer and family victimization.

  • Youths are most likely to tell a parent or other family member about experiences with crime.

  • Although community norms against snitching are strong, youths are still willing to report crimes under certain circumstances.

  • Although young people’s relationships with school resource officers were generally positive, relationships with neighborhood police officers were mixed.

  • Gang officers have a difficult dual role (enforcement and relationship building) in neighborhoods.

  • No one is keeping track of witnesses.

  • Tools available to criminal justice to reduce or mitigate threats are seldom used.

  • Teens had hope and practical suggestions for making crime reporting safer.

The study made several recommendations for law enforcement agencies seeking to increase the participation of young witnesses to gang crimes in the criminal justice system:

  • Increase efforts to build trust between police and youths and their parents in high-crime neighborhoods

  • Increase the safety of reporting by providing anonymity or confidentiality wherever possible

  • Launch social marketing campaigns to counter community norms against “snitching”

  • Keep in touch with witnesses once they are “in the system”

  • Make more aggressive use of currently available legal tools to protect witnesses

The study shows that the more prosecutors and police officers can do to help witnesses feel safe, the more likely that witnesses will participate fully in the process. The full text of the study, Snitches Get Stitches: Youth, Gangs, and Witness Intimidation in Massachusetts, is available at http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbID=DB_ReportsStudies213.


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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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