The purpose of this handbook is to help law enforcement officers better understand and meet the needs of victims of crime, particularly during the first response period. Specifically, this handbook addresses issues that arise during the initial contact between officers and victims. 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. In addition, the first response can strongly influence victims subsequent participation in the investigation and prosecution of the crime. Finally, victims who have had a positive experience with law enforcement will be more likely to report future offenses. In this way, a good first response to victims by officers ultimately increases the overall effectiveness of law enforcement.
Circumstances of the crime and the crime scene determine when and how the first responding officers are able to address victims and their needs. Each crime and crime scene are different and require officers to prioritize their performance of tasks. For example, if the crime is ongoing, or if the collection of evidence or investigation of the crime is extremely timesensitive, first responders may not be able to direct their immediate attention to victims. Once the most urgent or pressing tasks have been addressed, however, officers will then focus their attention on the victims and their needs. How the officers respond to victims, explain their competing law enforcement duties, and work with the victims is very important.
A handbook of this size cannot address every factor that may shape encounters between responding officers and crime victims. Some factors not addressed in this handbook include the different types of criminal victimization and the different characteristics among victims, such as cultural background, intelligence level, financial status, and perceptions of law enforcement. Additional training offered by law enforcement academies and in continuing education classes can teach first responders more about these victims issues and needs and how they impact the first response experience for both the officer and the victim.
What this handbook offers law enforcement officers are basic guidelines to observe when approaching and interacting with six general categories of crime victims: elderly victims, sexual assault victims, child victims, domestic violence victims, victims of alcohol-related driving crashes, and survivors of homicide victims. Ideal for reminding officers of their earlier victim training and refreshing their perspective, awareness, and sensitivity toward victims, this handbook would be very useful for retraining officers in the inservice setting, at roll calls, and in recertification programs. Also, located in the back of the handbook is a list of national victim resources that includes hotlines and other toll-free numbers to help officers help victims find the resources they need to cope with and recover from their victimization. Placing a copy of this handbook with agency dispatchers would further serve victims of crime as they make telephone contact with law enforcement; the numbers and information would be a valuable resource that law enforcement personnel could share with victims. Finally, if a law enforcement agency is without written directives or orders about the proper handling of victims, the handbook could be used as a working model for developing a victim policy for the department.
This handbook is a reminder that every victim deserves to be treated with courtesy, respect, and fairness. When victims and law enforcement personnel work together and help each other, the effectiveness of the entire criminal justice system increases.
John W. Gillis