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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
Office for Victims of Crime
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Establishing Victim Services Within a Law Enforcement Agency: The Austin Experience, March 2001

About This Bulletin

Law enforcement sees more victims of crime than any other component of the criminal justice system. Most victim assistance is provided through prosecutors’ offices, but only 21 percent of major crimes get to the prosecutor’s office. This means that about 80 percent of crime victims may not have victim assistance available to them unless a victim assistance specialist or unit exists within the law enforcement agency.

The new OVC handbook titled First Response to Victims of Crime states that “how law enforcement first responds to victims is critical in determining how victims cope, first with the immediate crisis and, later, with their recovery from the crime.” This response often influences the victim’s participation in the investigation and prosecution of the crime as well as the victim’s likelihood of reporting any future crimes.

Recognizing this critical role, law enforcement leaders are integrating victimization issues into their training for line officers and incorporating a strong victim assistance component into their agencies. Using the Austin experience, this bulletin describes the benefits to both victims and law enforcement for having victim assistance staff incorporated within law enforcement. Relevant to both police and sheriff’s departments, this bulletin uses an actual case handled by the Austin (Texas) Police Department to illustrate how victim assistance staff function on the law enforcement team. It also recounts how Austin went about establishing and funding its first full-time victim assistance coordinator position, and how victim services grew from a one-person operation to its present four-unit Victim Services Division.

OVC recognizes that the majority of law enforcement agencies are much smaller than Austin’s police department. We also recognize that most law enforcement agencies cannot financially support nor do they need a victim assistance division the size of Austin’s. However, we feel that the information in this bulletin will be helpful to law enforcement agencies, regardless of size, that are interested in establishing a victim assistance component within their agencies as a way to improve their responses to victims.

Establishing Victim Services Within a Law Enforcement Agency: The Austin Experience
by Susan G. Parker


Victim Services Division

Initial Considerations

Implementing a Victim Services Program



For Further Information

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About the Author

Currently a freelance journalist, Susan Parker has reported on violent crime, police misconduct, legal trends, and high-profile court cases and developed feature stories examining how crime and violence affect people’s lives. Her articles on the conflict in Guatemala were published in Time Magazine and The San Francisco Chronicle, including a feature on an innovative program to help children cope with the trauma of war.

Preparation of this document was supported by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Office for Victims of Crime is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

March 2001

NCJ 185334

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