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KC Police Department’s new unit aids crime victims

Updated: 2013-11-29T05:53:23Z

By CHRISTINE VENDEL

The Kansas City Star

An angry man shoved a shotgun into the abdomen of a 70-year-old man last month. Though the gunman didn’t pull the trigger, he still terrified his target.

The assailant later returned to the victim’s home and trashed it, stealing food and pulverizing the refrigerator, microwave and stove with a sledgehammer.

The victim and his wife lacked money to replace the items and didn’t know what to do. Then they received a letter from the Kansas City Police Department’s new Victim Assistance Unit.

“Let me say I am very sorry this happened to you,” the letter from Victim Assistance specialist Jerry Grubb said in part. “Call me and I will do my best to help locate resources for your needs.”

It shocked the victim.

“His letter was like a light in the dark,” said the victim, who didn’t want his name published because he didn’t want to antagonize his assailant. “When you’re terrified and somebody sends you a letter like that, it was the most peaceable voice I had heard in a year and a half.”

Grubb linked the victim with the Redemptorist Social Services Center, which reviewed his case and provided donated appliances. Grubb’s gesture did more than just allow the victim and his wife to store and prepare food.

“He gave me more confidence,” the victim said. “He’s going to be my friend for life.”

Police Chief Darryl Forté began efforts to start a victims assistance unit almost as soon as he secured the department’s top job in 2011. The department already had a victim’s advocate working with relatives of homicide victims, but other violent crime victims didn’t get help.

Forté said the idea gained importance after The Star published a two-day series called Many Bullets, Little Blame last year that highlighted shooting victims’ reluctance to cooperate with police. Many victims told The Star they were too afraid and didn’t trust police.

“I just knew we needed to make sure victims were OK after taking a report,” Forté said. “There are so many good people who are victims out there, and we were missing them.”

Taking care of victims and building positive relationships will boost cooperation and prosecution, Forté said.

“When they know something, they’re going to say, ‘Let me call the police,’” Forté said, “because they know we care.”

Police officials spent more than a year securing agreements from more than 30 social service agencies and building a custom computer system to track cases. The new unit began its work in September.

Specialists now call every victim of a robbery or aggravated assault, usually the day after the crime, many times even before a detective has been assigned the case. They also send a follow-up letter detailing victims’ rights and different free services that could be available to victims, including grief and trauma counseling. They’ve contacted more than 400 victims so far.

The letter is a vast improvement from the blunt, three-sentence letter that detectives once sent victims. That letter asked if victims wanted to prosecute and told them their case would be shut down if they didn’t call detectives within 10 days.

Specialists will check in with victims two additional times within three months to ensure they’re getting what they need, said the unit’s manager, Doug Weishar.

Weishar said he hopes to expand the unit’s work to cover non-aggravated assault victims, too. Victims of sex crimes and domestic violence already have agencies, such as the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault and the Rose Brooks Center, to help them, he said.

“We want to find gaps to help where we can,” Weishar said.

Diana Kennedy, Redemptorist’s executive director, said she gladly partnered with the new police unit. She said she was already linked with Jackson County prosecutors to help victims when it came time for court, but the new effort allows her agency to get involved earlier.

Redemptorist, which operates from donations and grants, helps residents in 23 Jackson County ZIP codes with utilities, food, clothing, prescriptions and transportation. It interviews people who seek assistance and helps as many as money allows.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea,” Kennedy said of the new unit. “It could just be a win-win for everybody.”

To reach Christine Vendel, call 816-234-4438 or send email to cvendel@kcstar.com.

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