|2-4-08 Victim Witness Survey|
This report will provide an overview regarding the use of advocacy groups by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. A review of how the DCSO provides assistance to victims and witnesses is required by CALEA standard 55.1.2, which states the following:
“The agency completes a documented review of victim/witness assistance needs and available services within the agency’s service area at least once every three years.”
To gather information regarding the needs of our victims and witnesses a survey was created and distributed to investigators in the Criminal Investigation Division and to three primary advocacy groups used by the DCSO. Those groups are: the Douglas County Victim – Witness Unit located at 1905 Harney St., the YWCA located at and Project Harmony located at 72nd & “F” St.
A 12-question survey (attached to this document) was given to investigators and a 10-question survey (also attached) was given to the three advocacy groups in February 2007.
In the advocacy group survey the first question identified which types of crimes were usually encountered. These crimes were listed as follows:
YWCA: Domestic violence and sexual assault.
Project Harmony: All forms of child abuse, witness to domestic violence, homicide, robbery or kidnapping.
Victim-Witness Unit: Homicide survivors, sexual assault (adult), child abuse, adult survivor of incest, DWI victims, assault, robbery, elder abuse, burglary, fraud, impersonation, all felony crimes and all crimes in which the victim is over the age of 65.
The second question dealt with what the specific needs of victims were. The respondents provided the following responses. Advocacy for protection orders, court accompaniment, counseling, therapy, support groups, court information, education materials, guidance through the criminal justice system, supportive listening and case status information.
When asked if the DCSO sends referrals to each respective agency, the collective response was “yes”; additional responses ranged from “weekly” to “monthly.” There were no unfavorable comments in regards to the timeliness of referrals to each agency, two of the three track referrals.
Each agency was asked if there is anything else that could be done by the DCSO concerning how victims are referred. Project Harmony responded that deputies do a good job in referring and providing required information. The YWCA stated to continue to make sure that referrals come in to the 24-hour on-call advocate on a consistent basis. The Victim-Witness Unit stated that they do not believe there have been consistent referrals from patrol deputies. The majority of referrals come from the Records Division when a report is automatically forwarded to the Victim-Witness Unit. To correct this the Victim-Witness Unit plans to provide the DCSO with referral cards that can be given to a victim at the time of the report.
Each agency was asked if there were any other advocacy groups that should be considered to assist victims and if anything further could be done on their part to improve the flow of information to the DCSO. The only specific agency mentioned that didn’t include the three agencies surveyed were Catholic Charities and Utility Assistance.
Input provided by DCSO investigators indicated a favorable opinion of the advocacy groups surveyed. A primary concern of investigators is that victims in general are unsure of how the criminal justice process works from a victim and a suspect standpoint. Advocacy groups currently used by the DCSO appear to meet this concern. Advocacy groups routinely used by investigators in addition to the groups surveyed include:
Based on the results of the survey it appears that the DCSO is adequately meeting the needs of victims and witnesses whom personnel interact with through the course of an investigation. While adequate, there are areas in which the DCSO can improve upon. Because deputies routinely rotate between the Courthouse and Patrol Division, information such as advocacy group resources can be lost. Newly hired deputies and newly appointed Field Training Officers (FTO) may also create an environment in which information concerning advocacy groups becomes a little know resource.
The DCSO may want to consider creating a list of advocacy groups containing contact information and detailing the scope of each agency’s resources that can be disseminated to deputies. To keep these resources fresh in the minds of new deputies and FTO’s these resources can be covered in the Field Training & Evaluation Program (FTEP) task list.
Another consideration would be to create a coalition of local advocacy groups that would meet on a regular basis to exchange updates on contact information and policy changes that might affect the DCSO and other groups that interact within the coalition. Follow up should also conducted with the Victim/Witness Unit to assure that printed material promised is delivered to the DCSO.
Finally, the next survey should be expanded to other advocacy groups that were identified as a result of this report and to Patrol Deputies that normally have first contact with victims and witnesses.