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.
The way law enforcement first responds to victims is critical in determining how victims cope with their recovery from the crime; strongly influences victims’ subsequent participation in the investigation and prosecution of the crime; and determines whether victims will be more likely to report future offenses. The victim needs to feel safe, express emotions, and know what comes next. Officers can respond to these needs by reassuring victims of their safety and assuring them of confidentiality, assuring that their emotional reactions are not uncommon, actively listening to victims, and explaining law enforcement procedures and referring resources for help and information. In responding to elderly victims, officers can do much to restore their confidence and maintain their dignity by speaking clearly and distinctly and avoiding unnecessary pressure. The role of the sexual assault victim is much more important than in other crimes since the victim is usually the sole witness to the crime. Officers can help by approaching the victim calmly and being careful not to appear patronizing. With child victims, officers (and adults in general) are responsible for restoring the children’s sense that there are safe places where they can go and safe people to whom they can turn. Officers’ ability to help victims cope with and recover from domestic violence may be limited, but some measures to be taken are assuring the victims that the purpose of intervention is to help address the problem, not make it worse; and providing victims with referral information on shelters and battered women’s programs. With victims of alcohol-related driving accidents, the officer should avoid words and phrases that discount the victim’s emotional and physical trauma, and help the victim driver cope with feelings of guilt and failure. One of the most difficult duties an officer must perform is providing notification to the family of murdered victims. The officer should know the details surrounding the victim’s death before notification and know as much as possible about the victim’s survivors.
Date Published: December 1, 2001