Multi-Site Survey of Victims of Crime and Criminal Justice Professionals across Canada: Summary of Police Respondents

Findings from Police Officer Respondents

Findings from Police Officer Respondents

This section summarizes the results from police respondents, integrating the findings from the survey self-completed questionnaires and interviews. A total of 686 police officers were included in the study, with 648 completing self-administered questionnaires and another 38 participating in interviews (see appendix A for interview guide and survey).

1. Responsibility to Victims

In both the interviews and self-completed questionnaires, police were asked to describe their responsibility to victims of crime through an open-ended question (i.e., no check list of possible responses was provided). The respondents identified responsibilities such as explaining the criminal justice system, keeping victims informed of the status of their case, and providing them an opportunity to be heard and considering their views.

Police perceive one of their most important obligations to be informing victims of the status of the police investigation; 56% of those surveyed mentioned this responsibility. Provision of information by police is greatest at the outset of the criminal justice process. Almost all police surveyed (94%), for example, said that they generally provide victims with information about victim services. More than three-quarters maintain regular contact with victims of crime throughout the investigation, and approximately two-thirds usually inform victims about outcomes of bail decisions and about victim impact statements. Police involvement tapers off once a case has gone to court; less than two-thirds of those surveyed usually provide information about court dates, and just over half usually provide information about outcomes of court processes other than bail decisions. In interviews, several police observed that the amount of police contact with victims varies by the nature of the case and the individual officer.

As Table 1 shows, police surveyed also mentioned referring victims to appropriate services and resources (25%); ensuring their safety (19%); investigating complaints thoroughly (18%); and treating victims with compassion and respect (17%) among their other responsibilities.

Responsibility: Police (N=686)
Inform victims of the status of the police investigation 56%
Refer victims to appropriate services 25%
Ensure the protection or safety of the victim 19%
Investigate complaints thoroughly 18%
Treat victims with compassion or respect 17%
Explain the criminal justice system 11%
Give victims priority 11%
Inform victims about their legal options 7%
Other 1%
No response 9%

The majority of police surveyed (67%) do not think that responding to victims' needs impedes their police work. On the contrary, in interviews, many police stressed that attending to victims' needs is an integral part of their work, although high workloads and limited resources compel them to prioritize their time. When asked how the needs of victims might be balanced with their time and resource restraints, police who were surveyed most often suggested that services to victims be provided by court-based or police-based victim services instead of by police themselves. This would allow police to focus their efforts on the conduct of the investigation.

2. Services for Victims

The following section considers the availability and accessibility of victim services in the sites studied. Police were asked about the types of services available in their community, the services offered by their particular victim service organization(s), challenges to accessing victim services, and how to improve accessibility, including how best to inform victims about available services.

Types of Services Available

In order to determine the full range of victim services available in the sites studied, police were asked to list the types of victim services available in their community (including their own organization, if applicable). Table 2 below provides these results.

Type of service: Police (N=686)
Police-based victim services 82%
Court-based victim services 49%
Specialized victim services for domestic violence 79%
Specialized victim services for sexual assault 73%
Specialized victim services for children 69%

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response, therefore, totals sum to more than 100%.
Only those categories of service named in all of the surveys are included.
Respondents who listed another type of service or those who gave no response are not represented in this table.

As seen in Table 2, about four-fifths of respondents reported that police-based victim services and specialized victim services for domestic violence, sexual assault, and children are available in their communities. About half of respondents reported that court-based services are available.

Challenges to Access

In addition to the availability of victim services, the survey asked about accessibility. Police were asked to comment on whether particular accessibility issues exist for victim services in their communities. A sizeable minority (approximately 10 - 25%) did not comment.

Percentage of respondents who indicated challenges to accessing victim services: Police (N=686)
Language barriers 11%
Financial barriers 6%
Services do not respond to cultural needs 5%
Lack of victim services because of rural location 9%
Services do not respond to needs of both genders 6%
Physical barriers for person with disabilities 3%

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response.
Respondents who gave no response are not represented in this table.

As seen in Table 3, few police perceive any difficulties with accessibility. The most common challenge to accessing victim services mentioned is providing services to victims whose first language is not French or English. As Table 3 shows, more than one-tenth of police said that language barriers exist in accessing victim services in their community. A shortage of interpreters and translators and the existence of immigrant or diverse cultures in their communities were the main reasons offered.

The absence of victim services in some rural locations is a challenge according to 9% of police surveyed. Lack of adequate transportation is the major impediment to access to victim services. While a few victim services organizations do home visits to these rural locations, distance is a challenge faced by many victims.

3. Information for Victims

The police officers who were surveyed generally agreed that victims usually receive adequate information about court dates, conditions of release, and case outcomes.

However, they did suggest that information provision to victims could be improved by stronger links among agencies and development of clear guidelines on agencies' responsibilities in providing information.

Table 4 shows the proportion of respondents who believe that victims usually receive adequate information on various aspects of their case and on the criminal justice system as a whole. There is substantial agreement among victim services providers, Crown Attorneys, and police that victims generally receive adequate information with respect to the date and location of their court proceedings; victim impact statements; victim services; the ultimate outcome of their case; and conditions of release. Police is the only group who believe that victims generally receive adequate information with respect to charges laid and the progress of the police investigation.

According to police, areas where improvements in information provision may be necessary include the alternative processes and restitution. It is worth noting that in general, police had a more positive opinion than their colleagues of the adequacy of information provided to victims of crime.

Percentage of respondents who agree that victims usually receive adequate information on… Victim services (N=318) Crown Attorney (N=188) Police (N=686) Advocacy Groups (N=47)
The progress of the police investigation 42% 32% 83% 19%
Outcomes of bail decisions 40% 64% 69% 23%
Conditions of release 55% 64% 79% 23%
Date and location of court proceedings 81% 70% 78% 60%
Charges laid 70% 59% 90% 49%
Charges dropped 49% 52% 67% 32%
Victim impact statements 71% 78% 74% 53%
Restitution 47% 66% 59% 15%
The ultimate outcome of the case 60% 61% 75% 43%
The criminal justice process 54% 38% 62% 21%
Alternative processes 27% 24% 57% 23%
Rights of accused 43% 28% 63% 32%
Victim services 69% 76% 93% 43%
Other community support services 66% 44% 76% 32%

Note: Respondents who gave no response are not represented in this table.

Responsibility for Information Provision

Table 5 below shows respondents' perceptions of criminal justice professionals' responsibility for providing information to victims of crime. With respect to certain pieces of information, respondents were mostly in agreement over which agency - Crown Attorney, police, or victim services - should be responsible for informing victims. For example, a majority of respondents in all groups believes that police should inform victims about the progress of the police investigation and any charges laid. Similarly, a majority in all categories believes that victim services providers should provide information about victim services and other community support services, while Crown Attorneys should provide information about the ultimate outcome of the case. However, when it comes to the other types of information, there is less certainty among respondents regarding the three agencies' responsibilities for information provision.

Furthermore, in no instance did respondents assign full responsibility for information provision to a single agency. Instead, they regard information provision as a shared duty. Even where large majorities of respondents identified a certain agency as primarily responsible for providing information to victims, substantial proportions also believe that the other two agencies also have a role to play.


Obstacles to Information Provision and Possible Improvements

In interviews, police explained that there are several obstacles to providing information to victims of crime. Insufficient time and limited resources are perhaps the most significant. They also believed that the sheer volume of cases in the system makes it impossible for criminal justice professionals to provide all victims of crime with all of the information that they may want or require. Moreover, police pointed to their own limited access to Crown Attorneys, court and observed that privacy legislation and policies limit the extent to which the various agencies involved can share information. Other difficulties in providing information include victim transience or reluctance to be contacted, and the possibility that disclosure of certain information may jeopardize the trial.

Among the more frequently mentioned measures to improve the information given to victims were more widespread establishment of court-based or police-based victim assistance programs; better provision of information by police and by the Crown Attorney and/or more police and Crown Attorney resources; a more active role for the court in providing information; creation of stronger links among all agencies involved in order to establish clear guidelines and direction on who should provide what information; and increased information-sharing among agencies. Other suggestions included education and training so that all criminal justice professionals gain a better understanding of the role of victim services organizations; more print materials; and implementation of a standardized checklist or protocol for reference by police, the Crown Attorney, and victim services, to ensure that all professionals dealing with victims are providing information in a consistent manner. There were also suggestions for implementation of a centralized, computerized repository of information accessible to all agencies and for improved public education about various aspects of the criminal justice process.

Information-Sharing and Collaboration

The police surveys and interviews used open-ended questions to examine the extent to which information-sharing and collaboration occur between victim services, on one hand, and police on the other. While there is evidence of some collaboration among agencies serving victims, there is also support for establishing stronger links among them in order to improve services for victims. Police were asked to describe the nature of their relationship with victim services. As shown in Table 6, just under one-fifth of those surveyed reported that victim services has access to police reports and files, while a similar proportion simply explained that police share information with victim services. Fifteen percent reported that victim services is part of police service or they share office space. On the other hand, 12% said that police and victim services do not work together or share information at all.

Nature of collaboration: Police (N=686)
Victim services have access to police reports or files 18%
Share information 17%
Victim services is part of police service or share office 15%
Victim services updates police after contact with victim 10%
Open communication or close collaboration 7%
Poor communication or limited collaboration 5%
Victim services attends complaints or occurrences 4%
Other 9%
Do not work together or share information 12%
No response 10%

Note: Respondents could provide more than one response; total sums to more than 100%.

In a separate question, police were asked specifically whether their division or department has a policy for allowing victim services to access victim files. Forty percent of those surveyed reported that such a policy is in place, although close to half did not know whether their organization had such a policy. Of police who reported the existence of a policy allowing victim services to access their files, more than one-quarter said that this access is unlimited. However, it was more common for police to report some limitations. For example, of police who said that an information-sharing policy exists 17% reported that victim services has access only to certain files; 13% said access is possible only with the victim's consent; and 11% said that federal legislation limits the extent to which they share information with victim services. [3]

Police were also asked about the referrals they make to victim services. More than three-quarters of police surveyed said they generally refer victims to police-based victim services and more than two-thirds generally refer victims to specialized victim services for domestic violence.

Over 60% refer victims to specialized services for sexual assault and specialized services for children, and one one-third refer victims to court-based victim services.