After a crime, the quality of a victim’s first contact with us is crucial. It can influence their decisions on whether to take their case further, whether they would report another crime in future and their overall confidence in policing and criminal justice. Victims need practical and emotional support both in the immediate and longer term, assurance by way of simple and clear processes, communication and a consistent level of service.
Following initial reporting, assessment of risk and vulnerability, victims and witnesses will be contacted by either telephone, email, text, letter or face-to-face. It is essential to ensure engagement is both timely and effectively caters for the needs of the victim or witness. The Incident Management Unit within the force control room is seeking to introduce an “enhanced desktop investigation process,” undertaking a more focused approach, making earlier contact with victims after the initial report. Moving contact and decisions upstream seeks earlier identification of solvable reports, better chance of earlier evidential capture, earlier identification of suspects for arrest and more efficient use of resources in investigations.
We have recently seen the trial and force-wide roll out of the vulnerability hub, which seeks to enhance the force’s response to vulnerable victims of crime (initially focusing on domestic abuse) by providing a faster, dedicated and tailored assessment and response using Early Victim Engagement Officers. The vulnerability hub is currently in “phase one” with “phase two” planned to expand its working hours and other areas of vulnerability in addition to domestic abuse. We have also seen the recent introduction of victim based crime teams (VBCT) across the force. VBCTs focus on victim-based crimes (allocated to local policing teams) where initial assessment provides a named suspect and identifiable lines of enquiry which if completed would achieve a realistic prospect of conviction.
Engagement with victims and witnesses is a complicated and multifaceted process and is just one of many responsibilities for front line officers however, it is one of the most important as it deals with many aspects of victim code entitlements and witness charter standards. Engagement requires
- identification of standard or enhanced status
- special measures provisions
- obtaining of evidence
- victim personal statements
- provision of support services and much more.
Despite this, there is little direction and guidance in order to assist officers in how to manage this. The same situation arises in relation to needs assessments. Incorporated within the engagement process they are vitally important but there is no clear direction nationally or at force level regarding what should be considered. It is essential a victim or witnesses experience is a positive one, with the correct information and support being delivered in order to build trust and confidence.
It is nationally recognised that providing updates is one of the most important issues to affect a victim’s experience. The force invests well in ensuring victims of crime are updated as a minimum, every 28 days however diagnostics need to be developed to measure and improve quality. Mandatory updates, and other entitlements, are not currently measured (see Assessment). Consistency of point of contact and level of service are also essential in providing a quality service.
- provide clear, best practice guidance to officers in relation to face-to-face engagement and minimum standards required for consideration regarding needs assessments
- embed the force’s ‘Vulnerability Hub’ and ‘Victim Based Crime Team’ functions providing a dedicated and focused service
- Ensure engagement seeks to build confidence and trust and avoids being transactional