The New York Times
By Ashley Southall
August 27, 2018
One day in July, a detective approached Jeri Bacchus inside an East New York police station. The officer was investigating an assault in which a woman in her 60s was pushed to the ground and beaten after she refused to give the attacker money she had withdrawn from an A.T.M., Ms. Bacchus recalled.
The victim had received a bill for $785 for the ambulance that took her to the hospital after the attack, but she couldn’t afford to pay and her health insurance didn’t cover it, Ms. Bacchus said. The detective asked her if she could help.
Yes, she could. Ms. Bacchus, an advocate for crime victims, called the woman into the station, where together, they filled out paperwork requesting money from the state to cover the bill.
“We’re just waiting to hear back,” Ms. Bacchus said in an interview last week.
Ms. Bacchus is one of 157 professionally trained advocates the city has placed in police stations across the city as part of a program designed to build trust between the police and victims who bear the financial, physical and psychological burdens of crime. Last week, the department announced it now has victim advocates in all 77 precincts and nine housing police service areas, completing the rollout of a plan announced in 2016.
Some crime victims can move on with their lives relatively quickly, but others may struggle mentally, emotionally, physically and even financially, Susan A. Herman, the deputy police commissioner for collaborative policing, said in an interview. Victims share a need to feel safe, to recover from the trauma and to regain a sense of control of their lives, “and that’s where the advocates come in,” she said.
Commissioner Herman said the victim advocates program was designed to help crime victims get access to a range of resources available to them, whether that is finding counseling, filing for victim’s compensation, changing locks or obtaining emergency housing transfers, among other options. Providing those services encourages people to report crimes and helps reduce the chance that they will be victimized again, she said.
“As they understand both the psychological and very concrete ways advocates can help you,” she said, “then I think more and more people will be comfortable realizing this happened to me, this is someone I need to talk to.”
Having advocates inside police stations helps to reduce the time between when a crime occurs and when victims get services, victims’ rights groups say. But the advocates also go out into neighborhoods and make home visits to reach victims who don’t trust the police and won’t come to a police station, like immigrants fearful of deportation and many of the young, black and Latino men in the city who often distrust officers and are most likely to be victims of violence.
The city provides funding for the $12.5 million program through the Police Department, and it is staffed by Safe Horizon, a nonprofit that provides services to victims of violence. All but six precincts will have two advocates, one dedicated to domestic violence and the other focused on general crime, such as shootings, robberies, and car thefts. Police officials said they were monitoring whether more advocates would be needed in areas with higher crime.
The advocates not only respond to new crimes but also reach out to victims of past ones. Advocates have combed through more than 500,000 police reports since July 2016 and reached out to about 70,000 crime victims with letters or phone calls, city officials said in a news release. They have assisted 11,000 people in navigating access to services and the criminal justice system, according to the release.
“They’re grateful and happy that I’m calling them,” Ms. Bacchus said.
Mai Fernandez, the executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said the program in New York was a model of best practices for law enforcement agencies.
“In order to really be able to investigate a case, they’re going to need the cooperation of the victim,” she said. “And they’re more likely to cooperate if they have somebody advocating for them.”
Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation expanding the benefits available to victims to include the costs of cleaning up crime scenes and staying at domestic violence shelters. The law, which will take effect in February, aims to help victims of hate crimes and domestic violence who are not physically injured.
Chirlane McCray, the wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio, discussed the program with crime victim advocates and police executives last Wednesday at a round-table discussion inside a police borough command in Bushwick. The program is part of her ThriveNYC initiative focused on improving the city’s mental health system.
Ms. McCray said she was “tremendously moved” by the stories advocates shared of helping victims get back on their feet. “It’s working,” she said.