Gov. Matt Bevin joined with Kentucky State Police, the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, and the federal Office of Justice Programs, within the Department of Justice, last week to announce a new initiative that will provide trained advocates at every KSP post to support and assist victims of crime.
KSP is among the first state police agencies to implement this program on a statewide basis.
The program, called Victim Advocate Support Services (VASS), is launching this fall with a dual purpose. Advocates will administer care to crime victims - or those involved in traumatic events - connecting them with immediate resources, such as mental health services, crisis intervention or legal support. These skilled professionals will also serve as liaisons between law enforcement and the victim, simultaneously helping victims navigate the system while allowing detectives to focus more efficiently on the details of the case.
"I am proud of KSP for leading the charge to ensure that every single state police post in the Commonwealth has a trained advocate that can provide compassionate care and essential resources to victims of crime," said Gov. Bevin. "The Victim Advocate Support Service program will ensure that victims are immediately connected with trained professionals who will be available during every step of the process. We are grateful to the federal Department of Justice for partnering with us on this important program, and I am confident that this initiative will allow us to better serve and support crime victims who need it most."
One advocate will be assigned to each of KSP's 16 posts throughout the state. They will work with community partners to provide fair, compassionate and sensitive treatment of victims, families and witnesses - from the investigative stage of a crime through a follow-up period after the case has been adjudicated. Providing these services in the first hours following a crime is not only vital to healing, it also helps victims secure available compensation funds for out-of-pocket expenses.
KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders said the VASS program will fill a void in the system when it comes to victim outreach and ensure that victims are provided with immediate assistance and resources.
"Last year, our agency opened more than 8,000 criminal cases involving more than 10,000 victims," Commissioner Sanders said. "Many of these victims have experienced severe trauma and need support from a trained advocate. Although, our troopers are compassionate, they must use their training to immediately investigate the crime or assist with a critical incident as it is unfolding, and having a trained advocate at each post will allow victims to receive immediate support."
The VASS program is funded through the federal Department of Justice's Victims of Crime Advocacy (VOCA) grant program. Last month, the Grants Management Branch in the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which administers VOCA funds in Kentucky, awarded KSP $2.5 million for the program. KSP is providing a $632,000 match.
In addition to the advocates, the grant will fund vehicles for each position and a program director. It also includes funds for staff to attend training in trauma-centered care, compassion fatigue, and victim advocacy. KSP will also work with community-based agencies to develop a resource guide for each post's service area.
Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley praised KSP for the innovative approach to helping victims at a time when police are taking on more complex roles.
"We want to empower victims right from the start," Secretary Tilley said. "Enduring a traumatic event is overwhelming enough without having to worry about navigating the complexities of the criminal justice system. We have a duty to uphold the rights of victims while also helping them navigate the labyrinth of information, resources and procedures. This will also help KSP troopers and detectives focus on what they do best - solving crimes and protecting communities."
Katharine T. Sullivan, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, praised the initiative.
"The Department of Justice is excited about Kentucky's new program and always happy to make these resources available to support crime victims at the moment they need it the most," Sullivan said. "I'm confident that this program will serve as a model for other states, and I'm hopeful that it will set a new standard for law enforcement agencies everywhere as they seek to do more to respond to the needs of victims."
KSP has begun interviewing and hiring victim advocates and will begin offering services as soon as the hiring process is complete.