Victim Contact Program
- Victims Notification of Case Status of Low Solvability Crimes
In 1992, the Southern Pines Police Department began to examine ways to deliver additional services to enhance the community oriented policing and problem oriented policing philosophies. Any additional services must be provided in an orderly, comprehensive, and cost efficient manner. One area of concern was the notification of victims of low solvability crimes.
In law enforcement, many unsolved cases exist because of their low solvability factors such as no witnesses or evidence. Some of these cases are immediately designated as inactive while others are assigned to police officers for follow-up investigation. Frequently, the officers must inactivate these cases because no additional leads are produced. Victims of these low solvability cases were rarely contacted or advised of their case status.
The Southern Pines Police Department saw a need to increase its sensitivity to this important group of victims. Advising these victims of their case status was the immediate goal. During a brainstorming session to develop the program, three different groups were identified who could contact the victims:
Officer and civilian personnel were eliminated because of work and budgetary constraints. It was decided to try using volunteers.
To recruit volunteers, the Southern Pines Police Department contacted the Moore County Volunteer Center. The volunteer center requested a job description for the prospective volunteers. With the job description in hand, the center advertised in the local paper for the positions. They submitted the names of the responding volunteers to the Police Department.
All acceptable volunteers met with the Police Department personnel to discuss ways of contacting the victims. It was decided to make the initial contact by telephone. Volunteers were instructed in telephone etiquette and where to refer victims if there were any complaints or if additional information was given.
The volunteers represent the police department as they explain to the victim that no further work on the case is possible because of the lack of investigative leads. When telephone contact cannot be made, a volunteer sends a letter to notify the victim of the case status.
The volunteers enter each victim contact into the department's computer records system. This enables the Police Department to analyze the progress of the program. The data is compiled on a monthly basis and submitted to the chief of police. Since July 1993, volunteers have contacted 5,859 victims of crime with low solvability factors.
The response to this program by the community has been overwhelming and positive. Many victims are intuitively aware that their case cannot be solved. However, they appreciate the efforts of the police department, especially the personal contact concerning the status of their case.
The program is fully operational. Every victim of an inactivated case at the Southern Pines Police Department is now contacted by either an investigator, a patrol officer, or a volunteer. The program surpasses the original goal of providing significant community service at minimal cost.
There is an unexpected positive result of the program. Officers now know that a victim of crime will have additional contact with personnel from the police department. This provides the victim with an opportunity to critique the preliminary investigation process and to give feedback about police services provided. It instills a higher level of officer accountability from the initial investigation which improves service by the department. The Victim Contact Program not only enhances the police/citizen relationship, but it also helps eliminates the perceived wall of secrecy which surrounds law enforcement.
The Victim Contact Program is at the forefront of innovative community policing. Each time a volunteer contacts a victim, a personal and caring arm of law enforcement is extended to the community. The program enhances the concept of Community Oriented Policing. It provides significant improvements within the department and it helps to improve community relations.
This program is so successful that it is now standard operating procedure of the Southern Pines Police Department. The Victim Contact Program can easily be instituted into any Police Department. Other law enforcement agencies continue to contact the department to learn the details of the program.
The Town of Southern Pines received the 1996 International City/County Management (ICMA) award for the Victim Contact Program and a volunteer participating in the program won the 1996 Governors Award.