An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Frank Winters
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Frank Winters
Interviewee:Frank Winters;
Clayton, NJ
Date of Interview:August 19, 2002
Location:Nashville, TN

Frank Winters

Chief of Police, Clayton, NJ




Biography

In addition to his duties as Chief of Police, Frank Winters also serves on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). He currently chairs IACP's Victim Services Committee.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Frank Winters became a police officer in 1974. During his first year in law enforcement he had several experiences that led him to believe that there was something wrong with the way the system treated victims of crime. His first such experience was receiving a call from the dispacher of the Denver Police Department telling him to give a death notification to an individual whose mother and brother had died in an auto accident. After arriving at the individual's home, he learned that he needed to inform a young girl who was by herself; Winters had received no training, and had no policy to follow.

A second incident occurred shortly after. Winters recalls:

"I remember going to court and seeing the first hearing of a young girl who was killed by a drunk driver. And I remember the woman standing up and holding a picture of her daughter and she started to say, 'your honor...' and I was even shocked at that time with the cruelty that the court showed towards this woman.
"Such contempt; she was chastised and repremanded severely and removed from the courtroom and you'd think she committed the (crime)...it was all wrong. I mean, there were things that had to be changed. It was a series of events such as that that drew me into it."

Interview Summary

Context of the Era

Winters acknowledges that when he became a police officer in 1974, victim services were virtually non-existent. He remembers victims' feeling hopeless and having few, if any, expectations from law enforcement for services or redress. Because of these feelings, many victims did not report their crimes. Those who did were often frustrated with "victim blaming" lines of questioning such as, "what were you wearing?" and "why were you out at that time of night anyway?" Winters recounts how in the early 1980s those frustrated victims, as well as people external to the system, became involved to try to affect change.

Greatest Challenge

The greatest challenge Winters sees in the law enforcement community is the need to change not just the rules and regulations, but the institution's mind-set to become more victim-centered. He sees this as a challenge because the existing mind-set has been the status-quo for a long time, and those in charge both must be committed to changing it, and have the flexibility to do so. Winters stresses that perhaps the most important change that must occur is that officers need to know that it is "okay to be human, it's okay to take your hat off" and not approach every call with the "John Wayne gait and the attitude, 'what's the problem here'?"

Failures

Winters sees "thinking for the victim" as the main failure of law enforcement in the victims' rights field. He believes that this behavior stems from the fact that police officers, out of necessity, need to be aggressive and controlling to restore order and peace. However, he stresses that law enforcement should not fall into the pattern of aggressive and controlling behavior as the automatic response to every call in every situation. Winters feels that doing so has been detrimental to victims.

"And so we have learned over time... that we have to stop trying to do the thinking for everybody and get away from the control part and just ask and listen."

Greatest Accomplishment

Surveying the landscape of the movement in its entirety, Winters believes that the various states' victim rights constitutional amendments have been the victim assistance field's greatest accomplishment. Although he acknowledges that application and enforceability vary from state to state, Winters believes that the amendments have increased the public's awareness of victims' issues, concerns and rights.

Vision for the Future

Winters believes that the law enforcement community knows how to treat victims' physical injuries; however in the future law enforcement must begin focusing on victims' psychological injuries as well.

"My vision is that we will continue to pursue, to develop and to produce a psychological first-aid program that is effective and has a great deal of utility for service providers as well as law enforcement."

Winters recognizes the influence that law enforcement officers have when they are the first contact that many victims have after their victimization. He believes that failing to train law enforcement officers about how to aid victims without further traumatizing them must be a priority in the future.

Greatest Fear

After nearly 30 years in law enforcement, Winter's greatest fear is "a combination of two things: too much and too little." He fears that the victim assistance field will do too much and people will become complacent, or that the movement will do too little and fail to make progress.