Hartford Police Department
The city of Hartford, in Geneva County, has an estimated population of 2,397 (2006) and covers about 6 square miles. It is located along the southern Alabama border, 8 miles from Florida. There is a 10-percent unemployment rate, and 7 percent of residents age 25 or older have a college degree. The majority of residents are White (79 percent) and Black (20 percent). The median household income is $30,919, and 20 percent of the population lives in poverty. The Hartford Police Department has 10 sworn officers and serves Hartford, but also works with other law enforcement agencies to provide coverage across the county (approximately 415 square miles).
Through the OVC grant, the Hartford Police Department created a victim service officer (VSO) position to enhance its capacity to respond to crime victims, particularly those experiencing domestic violence, its most reported crime. To help plan and implement the effort, the department convened an interagency council with members from the police department, the Geneva County Family Guidance Center, Family Court, Spectra Care, a mental health clinic, Circuit Court, Wiregrass Hospital, the district attorney's office, and the juvenile probation office.
Hartford recruited the Family Guidance Center to assist with an area needs assessment, coordinate education and training efforts, and act as host and facilitator to the council. Based on the extensive information collected through the needs assessment, the police department assigned an officer to this role to provide services to victims and serve as a liaison between victims, the department, and local social service agencies. In terms of direct services
- The VSO developed a victims' rights brochure and requested that officers distribute it to victims at the crime scene. The first year the brochure was available, 85 percent or more of victims received it.
- The VSO reviewed incident reports and contacted victims within 72 hours of an incident to explain victims' rights and available services. He also offered monthly followup until the case was resolved.
- The department arranged for victims to receive free counseling services through a local licensed professional counselor. The VSO was responsible for offering this service to victims and setting up the initial appointment. The department also arranged for the counselor to debrief and counsel officers following an incident, as deemed necessary by the police chief. The free counseling services for victims and the counseling support for police officers were not used during the grant period.
- The VSO assisted victims with transportation as needed; transportation services were rarely used.
- The VSO provided emergency kits to victims if needed, stocked with water, blankets, a flashlight, and toiletries.
- The VSO tracked contact with victims through the criminal justice process using a software program purchased through the grant.
A billboard announcement was displayed for 2 years in Hartford, informing residents of the victim services available and a number to call for assistance. There was an average of 15 calls per month from victims.
Recognizing consistent response by law enforcement agencies across the county could help alleviate some gaps in serving victims, the interagency council created a countywide law enforcement response protocol for domestic violence cases and arranged for all domestic violence cases in the county to be prosecuted in the same court. The VSO worked with the Family Guidance Center to coordinate trainings for law enforcement officers and emergency personnel in the county on topics including domestic violence, dispatch training, and victim interviewing skills. The VSO also purchased equipment to enhance evidence collection from victims, including a digital camera, recording device for incoming calls, and victim comfort kits for officers to carry in their patrol vehicles, and arranged instruction for officers on the use of this equipment.
Victims generally expressed satisfaction concerning their treatment by law enforcement. However, due to resignations of the then police chief and the VSO around the time the grant ended, activities were discontinued.