Calera Police Department
Calera is a central Alabama town with an estimated population of 8,329 residents (2006). A dramatic increase in population over the past few years (3,158 people in 2000), has made it one of the fastest growing cities in the state. Calera's population is mostly White (77 percent) and Black (20 percent). The median household income is $35,650, and 13 percent of residents live in poverty. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 13 percent have a college degree. The Calera Police Department has 37 employees: 26 sworn officers and 11 civilian employees.
Through the OVC grant, the Calera Police Department created a Victim Service Unit to help deal with increases in reported crime it experienced in the early to mid-2000s and the accompanying demand for services for crime victims. The department first conducted a community needs assessment to determine victims' needs and identify existing services for victims. Then, the department hired a part-time victim service officer (VSO) to oversee the unit. The department's records clerk and an outside consultant assisted the VSO. The unit provided initial and followup contact to victims of violent crime, court advocacy, and referrals to and coordination with local service agencies as needed to assist victims. The VSO noted that small courtesies often helped build trusting relationships with the victims she served. For example, offering candy from a basket she kept on her desk seemed to help victims relax as they discussed difficult topics. From July 2005 through April 2007, the unit provided 325 victims with services.
The unit developed an informational brochure in English and Spanish explaining victims' rights, local resources, unit services, and what to expect during court proceedings. Officers distributed the brochures to victims during the initial contact, according to departmental regulations. The VSO also distributed brochures at community service programs and made them available at governmental and community-based agencies around the city. The VSO estimated 1,000 brochures are distributed per year. In addition, a pamphlet on protection orders was developed for officers to give to interested victims. The VSO conducted several presentations to inform the community about unit services and wrote monthly articles in the local newspaper on what to do if you are a victim of crime. Information about the unit was incorporated into the city's Web site.
The VSO worked diligently to nurture partnerships with officers so they understood her role and the assistance she required from them to reach victims. To this end, she coordinated trainings on officer response to victims of violent crime, as well as on domestic violence, sex crimes, mental health issues affecting crime victims, child victimization, and elder abuse. She created unit operating procedures and forms to standardize and track services. She worked with the police chief to ensure officers recognized the value of giving unit brochures to victims at the crime scene. Officers were required to note in their reports that they gave victims the brochure. If they did not provide the brochure and document it, they had to contact the victim to provide the information verbally and write a supplemental report to document the call.
Officers learned on which calls they should request onsite assistance from the VSO, typically in cases involving severe injury from domestic violence, sexual assault, shootings/death notification, and child abuse situations. The unit also created backpacks with toys, books, and crayons—many officers used these items to calm and comfort children at the crime scene. The VSO reported officers regularly consulted with her to express their concerns or the need for followup in specific cases.
The VSO worked with the county jail to establish guidelines for informing the unit when an inmate was scheduled to be released or prosecuted. She then developed the following procedure for notifying victims of the imminent release or prosecution: During her initial contact with victims, the VSO asked them to complete a form stating if they would like to be informed of changes in the status of the offender, and when the unit received information from the jail, she checked her record to see if anyone needed to be notified.
The feedback received from victims indicated overall satisfaction with the Victim Service Unit and the police department. When the grant ended, the department successfully petitioned the city to include expenses for the unit in its budget to the end of the fiscal year. It continued all unit activities and extended services to victims of nonviolent crimes. It is likely the city will sustain the program in future years.