CITY OF OLYMPIA,
Victim Assistance Program
The City of Olympia Victim Assistance Program was created in 1991 in response to feedback solicited from crime victims regarding their experiences following criminal incidents. The response from domestic violence crime victims was overwhelming. Victims perceived they were not included in the process; information about case status was not available; victims were not aware when the cases were going to court; and victim safety issues were not addressed. It was also discovered that unless a victim went to court, the judge did not have information as to whether a No Contact Order was desired by the victim, nor did the court have any history on previous unreported violence in the relationship, which is extremely important in determining the need for Safe-to-be-at-Large evaluations, bail setting, sentencing, etc. Ultimately, the victim did not have a voice in the courtroom.
In response to these concerns, the Victim Assistance Coordinators (VAC) position was funded with the goal of providing accurate and comprehensive information to victims of crime from the initial police, report through the disposition of the case. The program was also designed to provide victims with a voice in the courtroom, assist them with victim compensation programs, help them with safety planning, and provide them with information on resources in the community. The VAC is the primary contact for victims of domestic violence, as well as their liaison with the courts, prosecutors, law enforcement and community service providers.
Six months later, the need to expand coordination of services, specifically those addressing domestic violence, initiated the formation of the Domestic Violence Task Force. This multi-departmental task force reviews current operations, researches areas for improvement, identifies training needed for all personnel and assists with the implementation of those changes. As a result of this committee, several significant changes occurred to help combat domestic violence. For example, mandatory No Contact Orders are now issued by the court, effective as soon as the offender is booked into the jail; protection order service was streamlined for victims to make the process of obtaining a protection order easier and more accessible; Thurston County Health Care providers were contacted to improve communication between doctors and law enforcement; and a domestic violence brochure was developed to be handed out at the scene of all domestic violence incidents and are placed in doctors' offices, womens' restrooms and other non-traditional areas; developed in-service domestic violence training for all personnel; and recommended ongoing training concerning domestic violence laws/resources for all commissioned officers.
The VAC is responsible for ensuring that domestic violence victims are assistance through the legal process by informing them of their rights, court procedures, protection alternatives, case status and disposition, eligibility for crime victim programs and referrals to outside community resources. The VAC makes the initial contact with the victim, gathers information pertaining to the case, analyzes data to determine appropriate follow-up activities needed by law enforcement and the prosecutor, forwards the case when further investigation is needed to other departments, and identifies the need for emergency intervention. All case activity is documented by the VAC Office. The VAC maintains daily, intensive contact with these victims and has daily contact with law enforcement and prosecutors. The VAC also prepares written correspondence which is used in court for prosecution, attends all arraignments and testifies in court as well.
Domestic violence cases receive priority attention because of the likelihood of ongoing violence, safety concerns and the overwhelming degree of need on the part of victims to receive accurate information regarding protection options and case information. All information is documented regarding past history, both reported and unreported, in an attempt to understand the victim's experiences and assess the risk of future harm. This information is compiled and made available to courts and prosecutors (with the victim's permission) as cases are charged.
The Victim Assistance Office is extremely busy. In 1996, the VAC met personally with 240 victims, had 2,754 phone calls with victims, wrote 474 letters and attended 573 hearings. The Victim Assistance Office is staffed by one full-time, commissioned officer who is the domestic violence investigator, one full-time civilian employee who is the victim assistance coordinator and one half-time civilian program assistant. Funding is provided by the City of Olympia, with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing, for the full-time domestic violence investigator and the half-time program assistant.
CONTACT: Deanna Bourgault, Victim Assistance Coordinator, Olympia Police Department, P.O. Box 1967, Olympia, WA 98507-1967, Telephone - (360) 753-8408, Fax - (360) 753-8143.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.