For every crime, there is a victim. Responding to victims and protecting their rights are core elements of law enforcement. While this may seem like a no-brainer, victims can easily get overlooked in the quest to “catch the bad guys” and solve the crime.
For those embarking on a career in policing, it is important to recognize that when they respond to a crime, they will also be responding to a victim. For this reason (and many others), interpersonal skills are essential to effective policing. Sensitivity to victims is not isolated to the first responder. Every law enforcement employee, sworn and non sworn, plays a key role in ensuring a victim’s experience with the police and the criminal justice system is as positive as it can be given the circumstances. This statement from the IACP’s national strategy for Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims sums it up:
“Dispatchers who take emergency calls, officers who respond to these calls, and detectives who investigate crimes are in a position to positively influence the attitudes of crime victims toward the criminal justice process. Victims who are treated with sensitivity and respect are more likely to cooperate in the investigation. Ideally, a victim who is comfortable and therefore cooperative with law enforcement can increase the likelihood that perpetrators are arrested and successfully prosecuted. Depending on the environments and circumstances, victims who believe they have been treated with empathy and respect by law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals are more likely to cooperate with law enforcement and make efforts to minimize their potential risk of re-victimization.”
Nonetheless, maintaining a fair and balanced approach to victims can be challenging. Consider victims with developmental disabilities, mental illness, or substance abuse problems, and victims who have had multiple victimizations or those whose victimization is the result of participation in criminal activity. These cases present law enforcement with complicated circumstances and require a measured response.
Next week, April 11 – 16, 2011, is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). Sponsored by the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime since 1981, NCVRW is an annual observance to promote victims’ rights and honor crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf. Events like NCVRW and programs like the IACP’s Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims help to highlight victims’ rights and work to ensure that their needs are met – and met fairness, dignity, and respect.
Check out the Discover Policing YouTube channel for videos related to law enforcement’s response to victims.