Core Elements and Challenges
Support at All Levels
The leadership of sheriffs and police chiefs is essential to ensuring that agency resources are committed to the victim services program, policy changes are institutionalized to reflect victim-centered practices, agency personnel are held accountable for complying with policies, and the program is sustained over time. Program success also depends on support from officers and their supervisors. Sites often relied on officers to provide victims with written information about their rights, community resources, and law enforcement-based victim services. Coordination between victim services staff and officers also was helpful in following up with victims, addressing victim concerns, and promoting victim involvement in the investigation.
ChallengesWithout the support of agency leaders, it may be difficult to implement and sustain a victim services program.
It is important to take the time early in program planning, or if there has been a change in agency administration, to explain to leaders the benefits of law enforcement-based victim services. It may help to stress that having an in-house program to address victim needs and connect victims to officers and community resources can streamline the case management process, allow officers to handle an increased number of calls and spend more time on other aspects of investigation, and increase the likelihood that victims will participate in the criminal justice process. Agency leaders may be more supportive of starting and sustaining an in-house program if the results of a community needs assessment demonstrate that such an initiative is needed, if they are presented with a realistic plan for funding and implementing the effort, and if feedback from victims on program services is positive.
It may take considerable effort to shift officer attitudes related to assisting victims.
At many sites, victim services staff coordinated training seminars for officers on topics such as domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, trauma related to criminal victimization, victim sensitivity during evidence collection, and barriers victims face in accessing help. They coordinated with agency leaders to instruct officers on related policy changes, including handing out brochures to victims, requesting an advocate at the crime scene, and referring victims to their programs. Officers appeared to be more receptive to policy changes when department heads or supervisors presented them and consequences for noncompliance were clear. Victim services staff also met individually with officers to explain the program and elicit their cooperation. Although one-on-one interactions were time consuming, they were highly effective in facilitating positive relationships between victim services staff and officers.