Maryland advocacy groups, police, agencies meet to improve ways to help crime victims

State crime prevention office to issue report this fall

May 23, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

Advocates for crime victims and those who provide services for them, including police, huddled Monday in Annapolis as they worked with state officials on ways to better help the thousands of people harmed by crime in Maryland each year.

The sessions were the latest step toward the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention's plan to issue a report and recommendations this fall for improving assistance to crime victims.

"This is the first-ever blueprint from victims," said Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the office that funnels federal and state grant money to law enforcement, nonprofit agencies and others.

That report is expected to help direct state policy, including legislation and grants, she said.

Advocates suggested fuller use of children's advocacy centers — though not every jurisdiction in Maryland has one — for child sex abuse cases; more training for police about how to deal with victims; and talked about the need to make inroads with communities that don't trust the government.

The sessions were also a way for service providers to share innovative approaches. For several years, Baltimore has gotten word out about how to get help to victims of domestic violence through hair salons, where stylists have long said that clients confide in them.

"We could do the same thing for human trafficking," said Robin Singletary Haskins, deputy director of the victim and witness unit in the city State's Attorney's Office. "Let's face it, women love to get their hair done, whether they are here legally or not."

DaShawn Cabbagestalk, who manages the Office of Victim Services in the Department Of Parole and Probation, said she's had grassroots-level success inquiring about victimization at laundromats.

"You'd be surprised at how many people come up to you outside. They don't want to speak to you in front of everyone else," she said.

Maryland is receiving praise for the state's efforts.

"This is a key to responsible grant management," said Susan Smith Howley, director of public policy at the National Center for Victims of Crime, headquartered in Washington. She said she wished more states were taking similar snapshots snapshot of victim services to "reflect on whether they are doing the best they can."

The state program also dovetails with a more comprehensive assessment at the U.S. Department of Justice, known as Vision 21, for which the National Center for Victims of Crime is doing some of the analysis. The federal look at the changing field of crime victim services will also result in a report, with recommendations, to be completed in March 2012.

It will include some statistical analysis, and among issues it is to examine are funding availability; reaching victims whose challenging needs have not been addressed or met — the elderly and young black males among them; and dealing with emerging trends, such as cybercrime.

A potential obstacle to enhancing services, some said Monday, was lack of money.

"We are trying to do more and more with less," said Capt. Kris K. Nelson, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Maryland State Police.

Others wished more issues had been included in the discussion.

"I was struck by what topics we weren't discussing," said Roberta Roper, chair of the state Board of Victim Services, noting that cyberstalking was on the program, but robbery was not.

Mahoney said the subjects and sessions for Monday's event grew out of four town hall-style meetings that GOCCP held last summer to hear from crime victims and their families. They also learned of victim issues through news accounts.

"The victims told us exactly what they need," Mahoney said.

The victims' meetings and news reports indicated, for example, that the Eastern Shore is short on counseling services, that parents in Howard County didn't know if anti-gang programs existed for their children, and that Baltimore police needed to more thoroughly review rape reports.

The office has been mapping the existing services and their funding with an eye toward trying to help "evidence-based programs in places that need them," Mahoney said.

"So now, if I see a proposal for a grant for psychiatric counseling services [on the Eastern Shore], then I know, yes, I know they don't have enough," Mahoney said.

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