Focusing on what's vital for victims

Criminal victimization has a widespread impact, requiring extra attention and effective response strategies by agencies

Preparing for mass trauma

     In August 2007, a total of 78 police, fire, EMS, the Office of Emergency Management and sheriff's department personnel in Arlington County, Virginia, conducted an active shooter exercise at Marymount University. Arlington County Police Chief Douglas Scott believes that preemptive measures can be taken to prevent or minimize harm in an active shooter scenario.

     "History demonstrates attacks at our schools are absolutely predictable. The attackers are motivated for any number of reasons but, often, the results are deadly," Scott says. "We must do everything possible to prevent future attacks, and if we can't prevent them from occurring, then our tactical response must be done in a way to reduce injuries and deaths and end the violence as swiftly as possible."

     The drill enabled participants to engage in a simulated, live event which could result in a multitude of casualties. After the response was critiqued by participants, individuals and the group learned what needed improvement.

     "No matter how good you believe you are tactically, this type of training and exercise always demonstrates areas for improvement," Scott explains. "We got that from the Marymount active shooter scenario. The post-scenario debriefing and follow-up training provided tremendous insight related to our operational tactics, interagency communication and overall incident management."

     It is hoped the post-event training will help Arlington better respond to a shooting incident. "I truly hope we will never have to employ these lessons learned at a school or university in Arlington but, if we do, I have the confidence in our ability to respond in a manner that will likely save lives."

     Most officials will agree that there can never be enough planning and preparation when it comes to dealing with a crisis analogous to last year's Virginia Tech tragedy.

     Jack Brown, deputy director of the Arlington County Office of Emergency Management believes that the more training for events of mass trauma, the better.

     "We need to do more of this. It helps develop relationships through a real-world event," Brown says. "We still need to plan for the worse."

     Victim services and incident response must be a priority in planning proactive measures to deter and reduce the incidence and consequences of victimization. As public safety professionals are aware, it is not wise to assume schools are always safe places: History has proven that victimization is a violent reality, in monumental and tragic proportions.

Community outreach

     Brett Parson, lieutenant and commanding officer of the Special Liaison Unit of the Office of the Chief for the state of Washington's Metropolitan Police Department, understands the value of working with the multicultural community to minimize victimization. He commands the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) unit as well as the Asian, Latino, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing units. He recognizes the need for his officers to spend substantial time with these underserved communities. Parson has discovered that within the Asian community, many victims are owners and workers at restaurants who have been robbed and assaulted. In the Latino community, quality-of-life (or public order) crimes predominate. Many individuals tend to carry large amounts of cash and some do not speak English. Within the hard-of-hearing community, victims of robberies and domestic violence prevail. Parson acknowledges staff must be culturally competent concerning the proper way to deal with victims in these communities.

     Ellen Alexander, director of victim services for the Montgomery County (Maryland) PD, also understands the importance of reaching out to victims and the community. Her unit engages in personal outreach, on average, for approximately 10,000 victims of crime per year, and assists with death notifications, funeral preparation and media relations. The program facilitates connections between police officers and the community. "We know what is happening," she says. "Police are often not a community's favorite. I think working with victims and showing them courtesy and dignity increases satisfaction, even if it's not a positive outcome. We're great [public relations] for the softer side of policing."

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