By Amy C. Durall, Integrity Institute, LLC
Individuals impacted by crime interact with law enforcement and service providers due to events beyond their control. However, every professional connected to those events had a choice to be involved, whether by going to school, choosing a profession, or applying to work for an agency. Law enforcement personnel (sworn and professional staff) and community organizations have the opportunity and responsibility to meet victims with compassion, help them understand and meaningfully exercise victims’ rights, and connect them to resources and services that meet their expressed and identified needs. I have worked with multiple agencies and organizations as a victim services professional, and those who collaborate both internally and externally provide more effective and comprehensive responses and services to individuals impacted by crime. Victims’ needs are multifaceted and require a multidisciplinary approach that helps victims cope with the impact of their victimization and regain a sense of control over their lives.
Ensure equitable access to rights and responses
While they vary by jurisdiction, each state has enacted statutory protections for victims of crime. The first step toward ensuring equitable access to those rights involves knowing how “victim” is defined in statutes. Victims who meet the definition should be provided information and assistance with accessing their rights and with possible resolutions when rights are overlooked. Agencies and organizations may have better responses to certain types of crime, especially when those crime types are well funded. It’s important for agencies and service providers to recognize and act upon disparities in how victims are treated and what information they are given to help them access their rights. Victims’ rights are covered in most standard training to become a police officer. However, training specific to victims’ rights is less common in organizations providing services. Language around victims’ rights is often written by attorneys and can be difficult to understand, so law enforcement personnel and service providers should use training and collaborative partnerships to help victims understand and access their rights.
In addition to working with crime victims, law enforcement often responds to non-criminal events that impact people in profound ways, such as fatal car accidents or suicides. Responses to these events do not involve statutory rights and services are often not broadly funded. However, agencies should find ways to layer funding, services, and partnerships to comprehensively and compassionately respond with help from the community.
In addition, law enforcement personnel and service providers should be aware of victims’ challenges and barriers to getting help. For example, poverty plays a big role in limiting access to services for victims who don’t have technology, transportation, or other basic needs required to stay in touch with law enforcement and service providers. Additionally, language barriers can impact effective responses and access to rights and resources. Assess if your agency or organization is prepared to offer equitable response by providing translators, offering transportation assistance or alternatives, helping victims understand investigation and court processes, involving an advocate chosen by victims throughout all processes, assisting with victim impact statements before sentencing, and informing victims about corrections processes.
Employ a multidisciplinary, community-centered approach to ensuring victims receive services
Whether through law enforcement, a community organization, or a trusted individual, the first interactions following victimizations play a crucial role in how victims choose to proceed. When victims are introduced to the criminal justice system, it’s important that law enforcement personnel create an environment where victims feel heard and supported. Community organizations can partner with law enforcement to help victims bridge gaps, access law enforcement services, and understand criminal justice system processes when applicable.
There is often disparity among members of the community and law enforcement personnel and other professionals regarding the overarching role of law enforcement. Community organizations and service providers can reinforce the concept that public safety is a community effort and victims are best served through shared understanding, goals, and initiatives.
Law enforcement personnel, criminal justice system professionals, and community organizations should aim to ensure victims are referred and experience smooth transitions when working with collaborative partners. Part of this involves recognizing how your processes affect others. The actions and choices of individual agencies and organizations are never decisions with independent outcomes.
Law enforcement and service providers should continually evaluate ways to improve responses and services
Objective assessment is essential to growth and can be completed through critical self-evaluation or by inviting trusted partners to take on this important task. Shifts in practice can vary in scale. For example, shifting the mindset of all law enforcement personnel from “warrior” to “guardian” can seem daunting, but it can provide a pathway for victims to feel supported. Another example may be for all law enforcement personnel and service providers to substitute the language of “victim participation” or “victim engagement” for “victim cooperation.” While smaller in scale, the impact of language modification can reinforce that victims are valued contributors to a shared process rather than reluctant providers of information to agencies and organizations who are in charge.
Learn from professionals and personnel outside your jurisdiction and department. Sit with people who disagree with you, listen to their concerns, and see what you can learn from them. Make meaningful commitments to change practice and incorporate accountability measures. Hold meetings and forums to hear from those you serve, and implement their suggestions when possible. I have worked with agencies and organizations who instituted policy changes and adopted philosophies that initially felt foreign and uncomfortable. Fast-forward to those same entities expressing how they couldn't imagine reverting to prior practices.
The agencies and organizations I am most proud to work in partnership with have both the intention and commitment to do the right thing and see it through. They recognize that people who don’t carry badges and guns can offer valuable insights, and they embrace collaboration and seek feedback from victims and other community members.
Find victim services resources
In addition to seeking out local organizations and resources, there are various national organizations that provide support including but not limited to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, National Center for Victims of Crime, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), and National Crime Victims Law Institute.
First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that victims don’t ask to be part of the difficult circumstances they face. As professionals who have chosen our careers, it is our responsibility to proactively and consistently ensure access to legal rights, provide quality responses and services, and maintain healthy partnerships for the benefit of those we collectively serve.
Amy Durall is the founder of Integrity Institute, which prioritizes focusing on the rights, responses, and resources for individuals impacted by crime and crisis circumstances. Ms. Durall is also a Project Manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and her portfolio includes work on the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims, Law Enforcement-Based Victim Services, Documenting and Advancing Promising Practices in Law Enforcement Victim Support, and Research and Evaluation of Victims of Crime. Prior to joining the IACP, Ms. Durall served as Victim Services Director for two separate law enforcement agencies with both agencies receiving national recognition for Victim Services during her tenure.
If your jurisdiction is in need of training or technical assistance related to victims services, or if you know of a community that would benefit from this type of assistance, please contact BJA NTTAC at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov and we can connect you to the appropriate training, assistance, TTA partner, and/or resources.
If you are interested in submitting the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration in a future TTA Today blog post or in obtaining information related to a particular topic area, please email us at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov.
Points of view or opinions on BJA NTTAC’s TTA Today blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice, BJA, or BJA NTTAC.