An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Seymour: I'm Anne Seymour, I am project director of the Office for Crime Victims Crime Oral History Project and I'm interviewing Frank Winters and thank you for joining us this afternoon.
Winters: Thank you.
Seymour: Frank, I want to start out by asking why or how did you first get involved in working with crime victims and the crime victims' movement in general?
Winters: How did I start with crime victims? It was an evolution of time, I think, and experience. I would have to say that back when I first started in law enforcement I came from a background of public relations and the private sector, in fact with an airline. And it's an interesting and different transition to make.
And several of the experiences that I had the first year I just felt very strongly that there was something wrong with the process, I just wasn't comfortable with it. And in particular I think there were two things that tended to repeat themselves. One was a call by the dispatcher of the Denver police department and I was advised to go and give a death notification to an individual.
And the dispatcher said we have to let them know that her mother and brother were killed on Interstate 25. Well, I didn't have any idea what I was supposed to do. That seemed to me, at the moment, to be the last thing in the world I wanted to do and certainly to this day that's the case.
And when I went over there to do that, there was a young girl, they didn't tell me that and she was alone and she had no idea why I was there, she didn't have any suspicion whatsoever that there was a problem. And I was at a total loss as to what to do. And I asked her, "Are either of your parents home?", which was really, in retrospect, not a terrific question.
And she said, "Well only I live here with my mother, she went to Boulder to get my brother and she's on her way back now." And it was from that point forward that I had to struggle with some way to give her that notification. And there was really no process in place and it was just a terrible experience.
And then there were a series of things after that that just went right...I remember, for example going to court and seeing the first parent of a young girl who was killed by a drunk driver. And I remember the woman standing up and holding up a picture of her daughter and she started to say, "Your honor something"... and I was even shocked at that time with the cruelty that the court showed toward this woman.
Such contempt, she was chastised and reprimanded severely and removed from the courtroom and you'd think she committed the... 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.
Seymour: If you could just give us sort of the year, around the time that you got involved in victims services, when it was and how the field of victims rights and victim assistance looked at that time, including the context of the era whether it was the '60s, '70s, '80s. A little bit of what it looked like and the context.
Winters: How, when I got involved there was no...there was no definitive starting point. Again it was an evolution. Back...I became a police officer in 1974 and at that time victim services to me certainly was non-existent, the word "victim" in fact was that word that appeared on the report where you put somebody's name and address.
And that was pretty much the sum total of it. It was around the '70s, mid-70s I believe, there were two or three actual what you would call victim related programs that began. I can't tell you exactly what they are but I think one was in some way homicide based and the other was rape or sexual assault connected.
And...I found early and for lack of a better term, I wouldn't refer to it as victim services, but I think for these purposes even today it maybe one of the key components is back then I found that if I employed of the approaches or skills if you will from my public relations days with the airline to the law enforcement responsibilities, that I was much more effective in dealing with people.
And certainly it had an obvious calming effect and there were some benefit here. So as far as a starting point I think I continued to do that because it seemed to be not terribly complicated, for lack of a better word, extending just every courtesy you possibly could to an individual because they were a victim.
Seymour: For law enforcement Frank, back in let's just say the mid-70s, from a victim perspective, how do you think they felt they were treated by law enforcement as the entry point to the criminal justice process if you will?
Winters: It's really hard to say because I think that we didn't have...the police as a mechanism to any kind of satisfaction for your victimization, just didn't seem like an alternative I think to people back then. It... people I don't think generally expected to get any help whatsoever.
In fact unfortunately that still exists today in many, many people. Those people who had gone through the criminal justice system, others certainly would rather not even report their victimization and be drawn up into the criminal justice system of that time I think.
I'm not trying to be brutal on the criminal justice system, it's just the approach. As you recall, the only real service I remember was for victims, as I said victims of rape, there were some... for lack of a better term, I'll say victim advocates. There were other people who were volunteers who would come forward to try to assist.
Because people got tired of that some old line of questioning and what were you wearing and what business did you have being out at that time of night and it really was inappropriate, it was brutal on the actual victim. And it was about that time I started to see external people become, that was in the early 80s.
Seymour: In terms of law enforcement victim assistance, Frank, what do you think was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues faced in affecting change?
Winters: In affecting change? Challenge, there were a lot of challenges. I think probably one of the biggest is within law enforcement, when you approach things, when we approached victim services and just the same way since we've approached community oriented policing, there's an institutional mindset that you have to extend to and you actually have to change.
And that institution has existed for a very long time and even among those leaders who want desperately change it, they themselves sometimes aren't flexible enough to make the transition. We wanted basically to let officers know that you don't have to approach every call with the John Wayne gait and attitude "what's the problem here?"
It's okay to be a human, it's okay to take your hat off. We have a story that we hear repeatedly from a victim who is now, I think, in her 80s and she relates to a police officer on an incident that occurred 50 years ago. And she said when the officer came in the house to tell her that her husband was killed.
He came in, he took off his hat, he sat down on the sofa, I think 50 years ago things were greatly different, and next to her and she said he held my hand and he said..."I have something to tell you and I'm very sorry to have to tell you this." She relives the experience as a victim, but she also relives the positiveness of the approach of that particular officer.
And that was, that was an excellent example...an excellent example of a conservist for a police response.
Seymour: And looking groups like IACP or you know other law enforcement groups, what role have they played do you think in effecting change in both the local community level but also nationwide in terms of policies and really making a difference in how victims are viewed and treated?
Winters: The International Association of Chiefs of Police have been an extremely strong influence in everything that law enforcement does in this country. They.. their principle function is to research, evaluate and develop policy and make recommendations. And I think they're very, very thorough in doing that.
They're the largest police and oldest police command organization in the free world and as such though they have a relatively small number of committees, I think roughly 23, something like that. One of those is the victim services committee. So that in and of itself tells you that this body of representatives and it's basically the police leadership from all over, felt that it was sufficiently important to develop the victim services committee.
And they did that, I don't know, I tried to find out the exact date and I'm not sure and the staff tried desperately, but it was probably about 12 or 14 years ago. In 1991 the...one of the products for communicating that the IACP has is the "Police Chief Magazine".
"Police Chief Magazine" has a distribution of 25,000 copies and we know that it's very well read and as far back as February of 1991 they published an entire edition focused on victim issues. And that was very unusual.
Seymour: And later on if we contact you, would someone have a copy of that that we could use for a visual?
Winters: Just in case you asked, I asked them to dig one out of the archives, they will yes.
Seymour: That's great, thank you Frank. People had trouble with this question today, so let me maybe try to rephrase it. The question is, what do you think the failures have been in trying to identify and meet the needs of victims and if failure is too strong a word, maybe some of the barriers or challenges or failures, whatever you're comfortable with?
Winters: What are some of the failures or obstacles? I'm very comfortable with the question because we've learned within the law enforcement community exactly what our biggest initial failure was in being the least bit effective with victims. And it's one that had haunted us repeatedly.
In law enforcement you have to appreciate the fact that police officers historically have been and continue to be out of necessity, aggressive. They're controlling kinds of individuals because that's what they have to do. They have to restore a breach of the peace, they have to restore control to normally a chaotic or a disruptive situation.
That becomes an integral part of the way that they do business. Part of our I think failures or what certainly has slowed us down in achieving some of the things we as a law... as a community would like to do, as a professional community, we found is thinking for the victim.
We tend to do that for everybody. Police have and they're their own worse critics and they're the ones who have made this determination. They've time and time again have said you know somebody, if they go into the community and during this recently again, community policing.
You go into a community, you don't go into the community and tell them, look your problem is drugs or burglaries even though the officers may be correct, statistically that may be what they deal with, that may be what their reports are that they're taking. But the perception of the residents may have nothing whatsoever to do with that.
What they perceive is the problem may be and often is, something greatly different. And so we've learned over time and as well as for victims, that we have to stop trying to do the thinking for everybody and get away from that control part and just ask and listen.
Seymour: On a more positive note Frank, what do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment from the perspective of law enforcement that has promoted victims rights and needs and services?
Winters: I don't know if I can...the greatest accomplishment, I don't know if I can limit it to law enforcement. I think the greatest contribution so far which has benefitted law enforcement as well as everyone else has been the series of states victims' rights amendments.
Now it's true that there's a big gap in this and the enforceability, the application varies from state to state. But what it's done is it's brought up that public awareness, it's created a new awareness that this problem is so pervasive and so forth. It's interesting because we live in such an electronic media time.
Yet we still don't communicate and if you look at our electronic media we play games, we watch movies, we're not using it to talk to each others, so these types of public awareness issues and public awareness initiatives get the public's attention have a short shelf-life.
But if you continue to do it and I think the victims rights amendments within the states made that first step.
Seymour: Frank, what is needed today to continue the growth and professionalism of the field of victim assistance, victims rights, what's needed and/or what's missing? What do we not have that we're going to need to move forward?
Winters: What do we need to move forward? I wish I had the total answer to that, but I would say, I think we need a special combination of training programs and education for law enforcement, reinforced continuously. I think we have to get away from the idea that in order to have an effective program, whether it's victims services or any other program, that it has to be a unit.
I think victims services is one of those areas that's not really a lot of services, it's really talking about training an individual to recognize some of those critical signs and situations that they typically encounter when they have a traumatized citizen.
Seymour: Some of the younger folks that were here at the NOVA Conference, the younger professionals and volunteers who have just recently joined our field. You've been around a really long time, what advice would you give to them?
Winters: Well I think that I would...especially in law enforcement...I think that I would tell them, the advice that I would give them is that in approaching their law enforcement responsibilities or approaching their victim advocacy responsibilities, they have to remember that they have to treat the mind as well as the body.
We in law enforcement are very good, very good with responding to medical...problems and conditions. The men and women of law enforcement can do things that police 30 years ago would never dream that those officers would do. You have to start cultivating that in terms of psychological first-aid and developing programs along those lines.
Because when you make a mistake at that critical, initial moment, you could contribute to scarring that person for the rest of their life.
Seymour: My favorite question, two more questions and then we're done. What vision, Frank, do you have for the future of our field and you can speak from the victim field in general or law enforcement emphasis, whichever is your preference.
Winters: I think that relates, the vision I have, relates a little bit to our last question. 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 for law enforcement.
Seymour: My last question and if you have anything to add you can. What is your greatest fear for our field and perhaps for its future?
Winters: I think my greatest fear is a combination of two things, too much and too little. Sometimes I fear that we will do too much too often where people will become complacent, again that's with the whole initiative. Or we may do too little, we'll keep talking about certain things and make very little progress and in time maybe we're away from it.
I think I just worry and hope that we stay where we're at right now, there's a lot of drive, there's a lot of determination and there's certainly a lot of need. And I don't think that need will ever go away. I certainly hope the number of victims diminishes. But I hope the contribution of law enforcement can make to preventing victimization or to prevent aggravating it, I certainly hope that we can achieve that soon.
Seymour: Me too. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you want to say or address or closing remarks?
Winters: I believe personally that people live most of their lives in their mind and I think when you place fear and trauma in somebody's mind, you're basically taking away part of their life. And people if they're fortunate may recover from physical injuries.
I think they're a lot more people who are not recovering from the psychological injuries that they sustain through this and my hope for this whole initiative is that we become better at dealing with that and recognizing it at the very beginning.
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|