By Heather Warnken
Despite major legal and policy developments on behalf of crime victims since the landmark passage of the Victims of Crime Act in 1984 (VOCA), U.S. federal data collection efforts illustrate that significant gaps in access to and use of services persist for the majority of people touched by crime—including law enforcement–based victim assistance.
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the primary source for criminal justice statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice shed light on law enforcement’s current efforts in victim services, providing chiefs and other law enforcement (LE) executives the opportunity to ask themselves how their agencies measure up, as well as determine what more they can do.
Since the passage of VOCA, more than 32,000 laws on behalf of victims have been enacted at the state, federal, and local levels across the United States, including the incremental addition of 35 state constitutional amendments, and robust statutory protections in all 50 states. Police officers serve an important role in the experiences of many victims, which sometimes is specifically reflected in these laws and policies. For example, there are now laws in 41 states mandating that police notify crime victims about the existence of victim compensation opportunities.
Recognition of the importance of these law enforcement-based victim responses is not new. In a concept paper originally published in 1992 and revised in 2010, accompanying the Model Policy on Response to Victims of Crime, the IACP Law Enforcement Policy Center stated that law enforcement is often a “gateway” for crime victims.