The Victim as Customer: A Revolutionary Notion

A think-tank in London has an idea that could revolutionize the role of victims in the investigations of the crimes perpetrated against them.  In our conventional ideas of criminal justice, evolved as they are from the Old Testament/Torah, victims play the role of pretext for the dramatic conflict between guilt and innocence.  They have no formal role in that conflict, played out by high priest-like lawyers arguing before the Judge.  As reported in The Guardian June 5, 2012 the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) is arguing in a new report to alter that role significantly.

“Victims of crime in England and Wales should be able to track their case online from the moment it is reported to the point when justice is served, a think-tank has said.”

The IPPR implies that the victim should become a kind of manager of the investigative process in much the same way that a customer implicitly can manage her experience in a retail store.  The customer cannot alter the limits of the law or the facts — nor limits of price nor what the store has in stock — but he certainly can affect the quality of the experience.

“Police forces should develop crime-tracking applications so that people can follow their cases through the system, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) recommended.

“The IPPR found that not knowing what was happening in a case was a key cause of frustration for victims and undermined their confidence in the criminal justice system.

“It is calling for details on the progress of cases – including arrests, investigations, judgments and transcripts – to be published online by the police, courts and the Crown Prosecution Service, as long as it is legally safe to do so.”

Think of the implications.  How could this technique change the process?  For one, it appears that involvement in this way would greatly aid the victim’s return to wholeness. In what ways might this outcome, over time, fundamentally affect for the better the police-community relationship, especially in higher-crime areas?  How might this technique enhance the sense of achievement for the investigators, to know they have restored much to a life?  Victims and their extended networks would develop a different and better feeling about the dedication and compassion of the police.  The current opacity of so much police procedure unintentionally burnishes negative urban legends and other street wisdom about the ethical values of “5-0.”

I suspect transparency also would boost the energy of investigators over the course of the investigative slog.  I also suspect the engagement with victims in this way would improve effectiveness in ways we have not yet conceived.

Of course one would have to be very careful about risks, such as pressure on victims to leak info — a particular potential risk in gang cases –or tainting the integrity of the case in the context of conventional procedures.  For example, one can’t have victims clarifying their memories as a result of seeing how the investigation unfolds.  But smart cops and prosecutors can manage the potential risks.  They always have done so.

The Brits are moving ahead but not alone in this thinking.  Departments such as the Cambridge MA PD are moving on the same path.

In language straight from Robert Peel, the think-tank concludes,

“The effectiveness of the criminal justice system depends crucially on the public’s confidence in it.

“Given that so much of that confidence is linked to information and communication technology, this potentially enables us to develop a more transparent, accessible and responsive criminal justice system with victims at its heart.”

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About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at www.sergeantsleadership.org. I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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