The IACP Leadership in Victim Services Award recognizes law enforcement agencies that demonstrate excellence in providing innovative service to crime victims by successfully integrating current best practices of enhanced victim response into all facets of their organizations. The award recognizes agencies that best exemplify an organizational philosophy of placing victims at the center of their problem-solving efforts, utilizing effective partnerships, training methods and performance monitoring tools to enhance response to victims of crime.
All law enforcement agencies worldwide (private corporations or individuals are excluded) can compete for the award by demonstrating that an innovative approach in meeting the needs of crime victims within their communities has been created, and has either been or is in the process of being fully implemented into the agency. Annually, three awards will be given, one for each agency category: small, medium and large, determined by the number of sworn officers within the department.
Small Agency Category – Virginia Commonwealth University Police
In August 2016, the Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department (VCUPD), in Richmond, Virginia, implemented the “You Have Options” (YHOP) program. VCU Police recognized the need for a victim-centered, offender-focused response to sexual violence that occurred on campus. VCUPD encourages victims of sexual assaults to report to law enforcement and offers various reporting options, including an online reporting portal. To date, YHOP has been implemented by six local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. VCUPD was the first campus law enforcement agency to navigate Title IX requirements and Clery Act obligations while providing the elements of YHOP to the campus community.
VCU Police officers and staff received training on the complexities of sexual violence, comprehensive victim response and the YHOP program. With the addition of the YHOP program, sexual assault reporting to VCUPD has significantly increased. In the 2016-2017 academic year there has been a 51% increase in the number of sexual assaults reported to the department compared to the previous academic year. This increase more accurately reflects sexual violence on campus and demonstrates a greater trust in the department and the victim-centered program.
In the spring of 2017, 96.3% of students, faculty, and staff surveyed reported feeling "safe" or "very safe" on VCU's campuses. One participant in the survey noted that they were recently the victim of harassment. This individual stated that VCU Police went above and beyond their normal duties to solve the issue, which in turn enhanced their feeling of safety on campus. Others who completed the survey recognized that the programs and resources provided by VCUPD helped them become more aware of the assistance offered to those who feel unsafe or victimized.
VCU Police created a channel for victims of sexual assault to access justice in a way that is right for them at a pace with which they are comfortable. There is no doubt sworn campus law enforcement agencies will look to VCUPD as an example of how to utilize best practices in responding to sexual assault cases.
Large Agency Category – Vancouver Police Department, British Columbia, Canada
The Vancouver Police Department Victim Services Unit (VSU) has been an integral part of the Department since its inception in 1984. At that time volunteers mainly supported the victims. In 2004, due to the ever-increasing complexity of victim service work, the VSU underwent a significant reorganization and is now entirely comprised of specialized employees who work with victims and witnesses. All the staff hold degrees in the social sciences and have considerable experience in crisis intervention and trauma informed practices.
The VSU is constantly exploring innovative ways of reaching out to serve the many diverse population groups within Vancouver. As a result, the VSU has earned the reputation locally, nationally and internationally as a leader in the victim services field and has become a role model for many agencies.
One example of their innovative approach was that in 2016, a trained intervention trauma dog was introduced to the program. The Handler and IK-9 team has proven to be a huge success in aiding victims and witnesses to cope with the stress related to critical incidents. The IK-9 Team also attends court during testimony of vulnerable clients like children, acting as a calm presence to help alleviate an extremely difficult time for them.
In 2017 the Vancouver Police added a Civilian Intervention Stress Management Team, which is designed to assist VPD employees who may suffer from exposure to critical incidents or to viewing traumatic materials. The two co-coordinators of the program are VSU staff members and another caseworker is also on this peer support team.
The VSU actively participate in and play an integral role in developing comprehensive victim services networks, in order to assist victims, not only within the complex framework of their own agency but also regionally and throughout Canada. One way this is accomplished is through a referral system that ensures that victims that are victimized in one area can receive services in their own jurisdictions. The VSU also regularly meets with other police-based victim services to forge bonds in order to support multi-jurisdictional clients.
A vital component the VSU provides for the Department is the accessibility of service through the Unit’s 24/7 response team to police emergencies in order to assess and stabilize victims on scene. The many Specialty Units within Vancouver PD also are confident that victims and witnesses of serious crimes such as homicides and sexual assaults will be assisted without comprising their investigations.
As an independent Research group has concluded, the VSU consistently demonstrates that they have had a positive impact on the citizens and businesses in Vancouver they are employed to serve.
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