Crime victims and the police
On 1 February 2018, at 16.15 hrs, Nathalie-Sharon Koster will defend her doctoral thesis ‘Crime victims and the police’ at the Academy Building of Leiden University. The doctoral research was supervised by Professor J.P. van der Leun and M.J.J. Kunst.
Almost 2.5 million Dutch victims of crime each year
Crime is a major problem in society. Almost 2.5 million citizens in the Netherlands are criminally victimized each year. If crime victims report their victimization to the police, this can play an important role in reducing crime. By providing police officers with important and detailed information on the circumstances of the crime and possibly on the offender, they can help police officers to solve the crime. Without crime victims reporting their victimization to the police and offering their cooperation, many crimes go unnoticed and remain unsolved by the police and the criminal justice system. In other words, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system depends to a large extent on crime victims cooperating with the police.
Yet, many crime victims do not report their victimization. Previous studies suggest that victimization reporting seems to be less likely for repeat crime victims, which might be due to previous negative experiences of crime victims with police officers. This is very unfortunate, since previous research also suggests that people who were once victimized have an increased risk of being victimized again compared to non-victimized individuals. This dissertation seeks to understand to what extent, how and why crime victims’ evaluations of police response relate to their willingness to cooperate with the police in the event of future crime victimization. Such information could be helpful in countering the unfavourable situation that repeat crime victims seem to be less willing to cooperate with the police (because of previous negative experiences with the police).
Negative evaluations of police action must be avoided
Firstly, the findings reveal that crime victims are not only interested in receiving fair treatment, but also in the investigative activities that the police may perform to solve their case. Both are important to them, because it makes them feel that they and their case are being taken seriously.
Secondly, the findings reveal that evaluations of police response have important consequences for both perceived police legitimacy and willingness to cooperate with the police. Negative evaluations of police response, particularly concerning a lack of investigation activities, could have detrimental effects. This applies especially to victims of violent crimes who know their offender. As a consequence, some of them may not only be reluctant to cooperate with the police, but also develop feelings of vigilantism. To prevent repeat crime victims from evading the criminal justice system it is, therefore, of utmost importance that the police avoids negative evaluations as far as possible.
Attention to victims essential
The results of this thesis can offer certain guidelines for the development of policy and practice for police officers who interact with crime victims on a daily basis. Amongst others, it would be advisable for the police officers to:
- give victims the opportunity to express their views on the situation and consider their opinion on how to proceed;
- be neutral and unbiased with regard to the victims’ role (i.e. guilt) in the victimization;
- treat victims with respect and dignity;
- communicate that they are sincerely motivated to come to the best solution for all parties involved;
- inform crime victims about developments in their case if they want to be informed; and
- clearly communicate on the investigative efforts taken or on the reasons for not taking investigative efforts.
It is recommended to assign a central point of contact who can inform the victim about developments in the case. This may help to prevent negative evaluations about the police response. In addition, it would be advisable for the police force in general to value the opinions of crime victims (even) more, by not only formulating key performance indicators in terms of number of investigations conducted, closed cases, or the reduction of crime, but also in terms of victims’ evaluations of the police response to their case. Paying attention to victims in a helpful way not only benefits the individual person and society in general, but also the police force as an institution.