Members of the Houston Police Departments command staff and Victim Services Unit joined community members April 13 in taking part in a day of recognition to commemorate National Crime Victims Rights Week.
At the event, HPD Executive Assistant Chief Michael Dirden acknowledged how far victims rights have progressed.
There was a time when victims had no voice in the criminal justice system, a time when murder victims families were excluded from court rooms, a time when assault victims had to pay their own medical expenses, and when other victims had to bear their own burdens alone, Dirden said. Victims Rights Week honors the victims and advocates who confronted such injustices in our systems and helped produce a nationwide system of compensation for victims and their families.
Guest speaker Stephanie Frogge is assistant director of the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue at the University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work. In 30 years in dealing with trauma response and victims assistance and activism, shes seen a number of changes.
For a very long time, law enforcement professionals were really the only representatives of the system who were very interested in the needs of crime victim survivors, Frogge said. Part of that is their role as first responders. They saw first hand the trauma of criminal victimization. I personally know of officers who have knelt next to a mother, taken her hand, and as compassionately as possible told her about the death of her child. I know of officers who have provided cab fare, lunch money, plywood to cover the broken windows in a home invasion, all out of their own pockets.
Other agencies and advocates have since worked hard to advance the rights of victims, Frogge said. She predicted the future will move beyond victims rights to also include an emphasis on services and resources to aid victims in their journey of help, hope and healing.
HPD Executive Assistant Chief Dirden had one final message for victims and their advocates:
I wish you continued success in laws and legislation and commitment from the community to change in order to make a more positive impact on the victims and their families, he said. Whats more, I commit the resources of the Houston Police Department and all our stewards in helping you in that cause.
Also helping to further such efforts is a grant from the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administration. The funding, through a grant from the Office of Victims of Crime, within the office of Justice Programs of US Department of Justice, will help the HPD Victim Services Unit in creating public awareness, including awareness of resources, services and rights available to victims and their families, as well as materials to officers who are often the first people victims and their families meet.