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Supporting a Safer Community in Charlotte: Secondary Victims and the Beginning of Homicide Support Groups

Benjamin CarletonRodney Monroe
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A homicide is a traumatic event that leaves family members and close friends of the victim (also known as co-victims, homicide survivors, and secondary victims) in a state of shock and uncertainty over the violent and unexpected loss. Secondary victims may experience a range of short-term and long-term psychological effects in the aftermath of a homicide, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. These effects are in addition to their grieving and other emotional states (e.g., rage, guilt, isolation), as well as the negative impacts a homicide can have on their productivity (e.g., academic, vocational, social). Despite the impact that a homicide has on secondary victims, the needs of this group are often neglected, as the focus of the police investigation is on apprehending the individual responsible for the crime. As the procedural requirements of the investigation take over, many secondary victims find themselves trying to cope with the loss of their loved ones while navigating the unfamiliar processes of the criminal justice system. In the aftermath of a homicide, secondary victims want answers from police officials and help understanding the forthcoming legal process. However, this information can be hard for them to access, which only leads to increased frustration and trauma.

Existing research has established that effective law enforcement requires engagement with and cooperation from the communities they serve. Voluntary support and cooperation from the community is essential for law enforcement agencies to maintain order and solve crimes. Studies on what affects community members’ willingness to come forward with information to support an investigation are less prevalent. Research is also limited on evaluating how community-policing strategies increase community cooperation and the quality of investigations that may lead to an increase in cases cleared. Little is known about how support from homicide detectives can affect the level of cooperation received during an investigation. This work by CNA will serve as the first step by building the foundational knowledge for further evaluations of this topic.

Given the profound impacts that a homicide has on secondary victims and their communities and the need to improve how these survivors are incorporated into the investigatory process, the Richmond (Virginia) Police Department implemented the first Homicide Support Group (HSG) in 2006. This is not to say that support for secondary victims did not exist before. Prior to the implementation of the HSG, secondary victims received support through U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, District/Commonwealth Attorneys’ Offices, victim advocates, courts, nonprofit organizations, and their own communities.

However, law enforcement agencies lacked formalized internal policies, procedures, and services to specifically support secondary victims. Since the start of the Richmond HSG, a growing number of police departments (Fayetteville, North Carolina; Boston, Massachusetts; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; and Louisville, Kentucky) have adopted similar approaches to supporting secondary victims.

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Details

  • Pages: 32
  • Document Number:
  • Publication Date: 12/15/2020
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