Victim Services in Urban High Crime Neighborhoods
Kerry Cosgrove, Linda Miller  -  2008/2/13
Is it possible to set up comprehensive assistance programs in urban areas that coordinate all the social service agencies efficiently? The current system is so fragmented that social service system rarely receive any feedback about the long term effectiveness of any intervention.
1.  Linda Miller
 In order to create coordination of comprehensive assistance programs in urban areas, there needs to be ground rules, trust and relationships between the social services. Regular networking meetings are helpful. After trust is built, memorandums of understanding (MOUs) can be created which outline the relationship between organizations which each of them would like to have with each other. Difficult issues such as client confidentiality, common intake procedures so that a client does not have to tell their story repeatedly referral procedures, and standards for interpreters can be dealt with in these memorandums of understanding. In Civil Societys Urban High Crime Neighborhood project, we ware able to get about 36 MOUs with 36 different organizations signed. These MOUs have been incredible in building enduring relationships with many social service agencies. These relationships are incredibly important in providing diverse crime victims with comprehensive crime victim services. We will post the template for one of the MOUs on our website at One current trend is to set up one-stop shops for crime victim services. These are created by many organizations working together. Currently, one is being set up in St Paul, Minnesota. The web site for it is These projects obviously take money and lot of planning. However, the planning creates the ground rules, trust and the relationships between service organizations that are necessary to coordinate social services.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 One of the goals of the UHCNI was to establish a case management system for victims across service providers. This proved the most challenging aspect of the Initiative because HIPAA laws have complicated information sharing to the extent that most agencies are not willingable to share ANY info without a signed release for each individual case. In Kansas City, Kansas we established an Advisory Board with representation from most service providers in the area that met monthly to collaborate and network. Each month different providers would present the services available through their agency. Referrals between agencies were streamlined, gaps in services were identified and new collaborative relationships were developed. With the high rate of staff turnover within the social service field and fluctuations in funding effecting programs offered, it is imperative to have ongoing contact between agencies. Making referrals is much more successful when you have a name and face at the agency and a thorough understanding of services offered there.One board member from the local sexual assault center said that attending these monthly meetings was always the first thing she suggested to new social service workers in the area!
As a victim advocate who's often attended various meetings in a high crime area, what are the best ways for me to respectfully build comfort with the community so that when an incident occurs (missing or exploited child), either the public or local law enforcement will call me? Over and over, kids go missing in the high crime area and we have resources, support and services that could truly help. Yet no one returns our calls or reaches out for help. When there's an investigation going on, it's not acceptable protocol for me to simply show up at the crime scene. Any suggestions?
1.  Linda Miller
 One way to build comfort in a high crime area is to attend meetings and events with a local community member who is of the same ethnic, language, and religious group that you seek to build trust with. Often, because a local community member may have difficulty traveling to meeting, you can offer to pick them up. The community members may also need to bring their children in order to be able to come so make sure you have a car seat in your car. Another way to build trust levels is to make appointments to meet with staff of organizations which serve the social service needs of the language, ethnic or religious group that you are seeking to build trust with. You can ask the staff about ways to build trust. After gaining the trust of the staff at such an organization, you can ask if they would like to sign a MOU (See answer to first question) When going to a meeting , it helps to bring something that breaks the ice, such as cookies. Also, try speaking one to one with an attendee who may not be saying much at the meeting. They may be very interested but not yet confident in public speaking.If you bring culturally and language appropriate brochures to meetings, it shows that you are respectful of their culture.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 Coming from the perspective of an Advocate within the Police Department, I may have a different take on it, but here is what we have tried. In our Urban High Crime Area there are several neighborhood groups that we reach out to by inviting them to participate on our Advisory Board and we attend their meetings and neighborhood activities. Because we are part of the Police Dept. it can take some community members longer to feel comfortable reaching out to us for assistance. Also, this area has seen many government initiatives come and go over the years and you have to prove that you are in it for the long haul. Make sure you establish relationships with the area religious leaders, for many times victims and family members will reach out to them in times of crisis and will trust their judgment if they vouch for you.As far as working with the police, you might try to find out if they have any internal resources for victims such as our Victim Services Unit in Kansas City, Kansas. We are always willing to work with service providers to make appropriate referrals for victims. Many police depts. have Chaplains that assist with death notifications, etc and you may be able to contact them for referrals.
I am interested in improving services to family members of homicide victims in urban high crime communities. Please describe what you feel are the needs of family members that often go unadressed by most service providers in the aftermath of a homicide. Where possible, please provide suggestions for promising practices to address these needs. Thank you!
1.  Linda Miller
 Family members of homocide victims in high crime areas often need to build trust to work with law enforcement agencies. Having an experienced advocate who they can talk to and ask questions of goes a long way to build trust. Such an advocate can answer questions about how an investigation often procedes. The family member will need to talk to someone about the various interrogation and court procedures that will be taking place. Many county or district attorneys will have victimwitness personnel who can explain these procedures to the family members. The family members also need to be advised of any of their costs which can be covered by reparations or restitution. The reparations forms can be difficult for them to fill out without help. Individuals can be helped by psychological or psychiatric counseling. If the individuals are hesitent to seek such help, often support groups can help. If they have any difficulties with English, services and procedures should be explained using a qualified interpretors.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 Initial crime-scene investigation of a homicide can be very lengthy and despite the popularity of unrealistic television shows, many family members do not understand what is going on and why. This is obviously compounded by grief and shock. Support and information are important needs of family members that are not always recognized, especially immediately after the incident. Police personnel are focused on investigating the crime and apprehending the suspect. We have found that it helps to have an advocate there to work with the family by providing crisis intervention and information. KCKPD also has a volunteer Chaplain Association who responds to provide the family spiritual support and contact their own pastor if they prefer.Although, sadly, many families in urban high crime areas have experienced homicides of loved ones or neighbors they will still experience the compounded grief that comes from losing someone to violence. Grief counseling is an important follow-up resource.Also, financing a funeral is another need and depending on the circumstances of the homicide, Crime Victims Compensation may be available from the state.We have packets prepared with information and resources to address all of these needs that we give to family members so they will have them to reference later. Obviously, at the time of notification they are not usually in a state of mind to remember all of the information provided. Also, our bi-lingual advocate has translated the information into Spanish and added additional information relative to the Spanish-only speaking population (Consulate info, international laws, etc.).
Kerry & Linda, What do you find to be the biggest stumbling block or problem in reaching out to victims, and how do you get around it? Kevin
1.  Linda Miller
 The biggest problem is trust. You can't get the whole story or really find out what is needed until you have it. I don't take notes when I first talk to a victim. Nor do I fill out any forms right away. I also don't ask the hard questions at first. Blaming questions will shut down any effective communication. Always use an appropriate interpreter even though the person may seem to speak English. They may need an interpreter to explain the difficult, emotional things. I would offer, but not insist on referral to psychological, psychiatric or support group services.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 One of the biggest stumbling blocks in reaching out to victims is trust. We are part of the Police Dept and many victims in Urban High Crime neighborhoods do not trust the police or are afraid of retaliation by the suspect if they go to the police. Getting out in the community you serve is important. With the Urban High Crime Neighborhood Initiative, we were able to focus on community outreach and education and public awareness of victims rights and the services available to them.
I work closely with the local police and probation departments in order to contact victims of crime and offer assistance. I hope to meet with various agencies/resources within the community to learn more about the services they offer that may be of assistance to my clients and to also let them know how I can assist any of their clients who may be victims of crime. I'd like to know your thoughts about Community/Neighborhood meetings and their effectiveness in reaching out to victims. Thank you.
1.  Linda Miller
 Community meetings are very important to connect with victims. That is because people need to see you face to face to form the trust necessary to report crime in underreporting, underserved groups.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 I believe it helped us tremendously to reach out to community groups and neighborhood meetings to gain credibilty within the community and identify previously underserved victims.
Can you share a few of the collaborative models created for victim assistance organizations? In particular, how can we, as victim advocates, enhance services (collaboratively) for the communities we work and serve? Thank you.
1.  Kerry Cosgrove
 We have a Victim Advocacy Network that includes service agencies in our area that meets quarterly for networking,collaboration and agency updates. We meet over lunch and everyone brings there own. With so many changes in staff and programming it has been a great help to meet with other victim service providers. We know each other personally and can call or email with questions, referrals, etc.
We are a refugee resettlement and victims of human trafficking (VOT) program, and we are troubled because housing is more affordable in higher crime areas--so our clients end up living in apartment complexes with high crime rates of robberies, burglaries, prostitution and drugs.....we are esepcially concerned about settling VOTs back in that environment; our clients generally stand out, so we are not sure if advising them to form neighborhood watch or report crimes will help or label them? suggestions
1.  Hilary Chester
 I was not familiar with DV programs before starting with the VOTs; yesterday I asked around, and it sounds like the DV programs in the area sometimes have self-defense and personal safety classes--we should invite to present to our clients!! I never thought of that, thanks!!
2.  Mary Atlas
 I hear your concern about the safety of your clients. Consider speaking with other trafficking victim service programs in high crime communities, such as Safe Horizon in NYC---they might have some suggestions for you. The list of OVC funded trafficking victim service provders is on the OVC web under Help for Victims of Trafficking - I would imagine that many DV agencies in urban areas share similar concerns regarding clients in their shelters, and may address this, in part, through the process of safety planning with clients....A DV agency might be a good resource for you...
3.  Linda Miller
 It is important that VOT's have a case manager who is familiar with their case and to whom they can go if there are problems. It is best if one case manager can be assigned throughout the whole process of the help you are providing.
What steps are victim service providers taking to reach out to growing immigrant populations in dense urban areas?
1.  Laura Zarate
 While translating materials is an important step, rather than literal translations - extra effort needs to be placed on assuring cultural relevance. Through OVC funding of the Existe Ayuda (help exists) National Outreach project we have been able to develop original products to promote training and outreach to Spanish-speaking communities and promotoras or Community Health Workers. The promotor(a) (men and women) can be found in any region of the country that has a large Latinao immigrant community.They are community members with public speaking skills, who present on various health-related topics and can be trained on victim rights issues and existing services.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 We have translated all of our print materials into Spanish (our largest immigrant population) and one of our advocates is bi-lingual. It helps to make sure there are staff who understand the different cultures in your area.
I'd like to develop a public awareness campaign. Do you have any suggestions for creating the most effective campaign for an urban demographic?
1.  Laura Zarate
 The most effective public awareness campaign messages and vehicles will be those that have community input in every step of development.Target population considerations such as gender, age, education level, assimilation, language, and cultural origin (i.e.not all Latinosas are Mexican) as well as the actual message will be that much more powerful with community by in and ownership. By reaching out to the community via second language mediums, victim advocates can not only educate on the issues and services, but also promote community participation.Art, poetry, and song lyric competitions can also greatly enhance public awareness campaigns.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 We found that having giveaway items that related to the event with information worked well. For example, we had maracas printed with the project information for a Cinco de Mayo event that brought many people to our booth. During the summer we had water bottles and cups that were popular.Recently, our bi-lingual advocate reached a number of Spanish-only speaking victims by being a guest on a Spanish radio program.
I'd like tips on how to get community members to attend community anti violence events.
1.  Arely Sulvarn
 1. Draft a brief message that includes the basic information about the event (when, where, what time etc.), but also that states the purpose of the event, the need or problem being addressed and more importantly how may this problem impact people, their life, their family, their job, etc. Yes your message needs to resonate to what it is precious to people. Draft a slightly different message depending on your target population. Consider adding any comments that help alliviate or address some of the concerns of certain populations.2. Send this message three weeks prior to the event, and send a reminder one week before the event.3. Talk to parent support specialists, they always can send printed information to parents!!!! Talk to radio stations and ask them to play a brief PSA, talk to the media and get an interview, add the event on all community calendars of local newspapers (hard copy newspaper and online, send an email to other organizations and ask them to forward the email, etc.3. Depending on the target population, consider doing all the messages in the language of the target population.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 I know this is cliche, but providing food and give away items always seems to bring more people out. Also, the more organizations that sponsor the event, the bigger it will be. Make sure you collaborate with other organizations for planning an event.
I am interested in best practice standards for victim witness advocates. What resources/websites or books would you most recommend?
1.  Mary Atlas
 Try these two documents---I think they are very specific. 1.) Standards for Victim Assistance Programs and Providers written by the National Victim Assistance Standards Consortium I like that it provides program standards as well as competancy standards for individual employees- to help in professional development.and 2.) Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance (May 2005)Available from OVC This Department of Justice document presents guidelines for working with crime victims and witnesses. The guidelines are based on federal victims rights laws and Department of Justice policy, and include specific guidance for victims of trafficking and identity theft.
2.  Mary P
 The OVC website is probably the most comprehensive site on the web. There are some crime specific sites that offer good info.
Is it necessary to have your staff meet the demographics of the area served?
1.  Laura Zarate
 The need for culturally competent and bilingual staff cannot be overemphasized, not only for effective outreach to victims, bit also for training and ongoing community engagement. Great care needs to be taken to not re-victimize ELL (English Language Learner) victims of crime, by not having hotline, intake, and counseling staff available to assist them in their greatest time of need.We at Arte Sana hear horror stories of waiting periods in which Spanish-speaking victims of rape need to wait between two weeks to two months before victim service agencies can figure out how to serve them. By then the confianza (trust) has been destroyed.Those agencies that are successful at community engagement not only mirror their service areas demographics in direct service staff and volunteers, but also in board positions and agency leadership.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 Our staff does not match the demographics of the urban high crime area. I do not think it is necessary, but I believe that it probably took us longer to gain trust and be accepted in the community. Of course, when language is an issue, it is vitally important to have someone who speaks the language and understands the culture.
Aside from neighborhood meetings, do you have other suggestions for outreach efforts that can be implemented as a preventative campaign against violent crime?
1.  Kerry Cosgrove
 Our department participates in the national Night Out Against Crime and other events that bring families out in the neighborhoods. Informational/educational fairs with food and fun and giveaways are popular here.
I work with teen victims of gun violence. How do I give them a real "voice" to advocate for the right to be safe - in school, in their communities, etc.
1.  Jasmine
 If you have not already, it might help you to connect with the staff at the National Center for Victims of Crime's Teen Victim Project which has publications and projects that could be of use to you in this endeavor. Their website is
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 I would google the topic. No sense in reinventing the wheel! Also, if there is a national group to hook up with there will be more resources.
3.  doris spears
 Perhaps along the lines of SAAD (Students Aganist Drunk Driving)? Would you suggest they come up with some sort of manifesto or declaration concerning their right to be safe? If so do you know of any samples?
4.  Kerry Cosgrove
 I wonder if it would help to organize them into an activist group. Teens are very peer group oriented and have a strong drive to be part of a group. Maybe a large enough group of teens at school and in their neighborhoods would have a voice.
Do you have any insight to the effectiveness (or the application) of crime mapping tools by victim service providers and/or law enforcement in dense urban areas?
1.  Linda Miller
 I was very excited by these systems when I was first introduced to them. However, they have certain problems. The mapping systems I reviewed only had cross-streets rather than exact locations. Also, there was a problem that if the reporter of a crime against a neighbor did not want to be identified to the neighbor. It also can make already scared crime victims more scared when they learn such technology is being utilized.
Do you have any suggestions for approaching the faith community about collaboration to educate our citizens on the impact crime and victimization have on our communities?
1.  Kerry Cosgrove
 We work with the Police Chaplain Association which is an group of volunteer pastors from various demoninations who assist the police dept with notifications and other spiritual needs. They are very open to working with us to get the word out to citizens. Most areas have groups of faith leaders that you could approach for collaboration.
Are there factors that effect the predominance of particular crimes occuring in urban high crime areas?
1.  Kerry Cosgrove
 Poverty is the number one factor.
Are there specific considerations that should be made to accommodate victims in urban areas that may be easily overlooked or forgotten?
1.  doris spears
 our program in Philadelphia is fortunate to be able to provide vouchers for taxi service with a cab company our agency contracts with for all casemanagement programs. This also often addresses the chilcare issue as the kids can ride along without extra cost or hassle.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 Transportation. Many of our victims cannot get to court and some criminal justice proceedings require multiple trips. Also, if there are injuries, it can be hard to find transportation to the doctor's office. Child care is another issue that is more difficult in an urban area.
How do you get law enforcement to utilize a Victim Assistance program more, especially one that is based in a law enforcement department?
1.  Jeff Bell
 It all has to do with leadership. If the leadership of a Department is not on board with realistic measures to ensure compliance, then collaboration will ebb and flow. You just won't get their buy in.
2.  Kerry Cosgrove
 Internal public awareness. It is something we struggle with constantly. We make presentations at roll-calls about our services and during training at the police academy. We also have a quarterly newsletter that goes out via email to the whole department.
My church has a prison ministry that assists inmates and their families.I have approached them about a victim ministry to help victims of crime, especially with travel expenses for court, etc. Would it be good to approach other churches, faith groups to do the same or do you know of organizations that assist victims with the financial cost of attending appeals hearings/trials?
1.  Kerry Cosgrove
 I believe it would be a worthwhile effort to approach other churches. Transportation is often a huge stumbling block for victims to participate in the judicial system.
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