ach year in the United States there are as many as 31 million victims of violent or property crime. This means that one out of every seven citizens is a victim of crime. Perhaps even more distressing is the realization that one in 27 may be a victim of a violent crime. And these facts, compelling as they are, do not reflect the true scope of victimization associated with drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, and abuse of the elderly and persons with disabilities.
As law enforcement leaders, we are well aware of the vital role that our agencies can and must play in responding to and supporting the victims of crime. The actions of dispatchers who take emergency calls, officers who respond to these calls, and detectives who investigate crimes all help form the attitudes of crime victims about the criminal justice process.
When we in law enforcement treat crime victims with sensitivity and respect, their healing process starts sooner, and they are more likely to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of the crime. Responding effectively and appropriately to all crime victims is not only the right thing to do but it is also in law enforcement's best interests.
When community policing first emerged in the 1990s, its philosophy of encouraging police officers and citizens to work together to solve community problems dovetailed naturally with the growing emphasis on police response to crime victims. By involving community members in efforts to make their neighborhoods safer, and by encouraging victims to participate actively in the process of investigating and prosecuting crimes, police departments that implement community policing approaches have been able to significantly increase the human resources available to prevent and resolve crimes.
In 1999 the IACP, with funding from the Department of Justice's Office of Victims of Crime (OVC), held a national policy summit with more than 100 participants, including law enforcement officials, prosecutors, corrections officials, victim services providers, health and mental health professionals, educators, researchers, crime victims, and victim advocates. The purpose of the summit was to identify the needs of all victims and to create a set of recommendations that meet these needs.
After the summit, through its OVC-funded Improving Police-Based Victim Services project, the IACP provided technical assistance and training to more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide that are working to improve their response to victims.
The IACP's successful work with these agencies, combined with the realization that there are thousands more police departments that wish to enhance their response to victims, highlighted the need for a greater effort in this area. It is for these reasons that the IACP launched a new project: Enhancing Police Response to Victims: Designing a 21st Century Strategy for State and Local Agencies. The goal of this project, funded by OVC, is to design a national strategy that will guide policies, procedures, and training in state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to enhance substantially the culture and practice of serving victims' needs. The strategy is being developed based on the input derived from advisory committee members and participants at four national forums involving law enforcement, victims, and victim service providers.
Once completed, the victim response strategy will provide agencies with a detailed plan for its implementation, a toolkit, and train-the-trainer guidelines that can be used by state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies spanning the spectrum from large to small agencies and urban to rural agencies. The strategy will not only describe the ways that police can enhance their responses to all crime victims but also outline the roles and responsibilities of other stakeholders in ensuring that victims' needs are met and their statutory rights respected.
The overall goal of this project is to create a sea change in America's law enforcement community, encouraging and supporting agencies and individuals as they embrace a philosophy that places crime victims' interests at the center of police response to crime and community problem solving.
This is a vitally important project for the IACP and the law enforcement profession as a whole. For although we strive each day to protect our communities, there will always be victims. It is our duty to serve them, and I am certain that if our agencies offer the victims of crime safety, access, information, support, continuity, and a voice, we will have fulfilled our duty. ■