After 9/11, when victims’ families went to New York Police Department headquarters to collect belongings of lost loved ones, police ushered them to private rooms. It dawned on the police that the same dynamics apply to families of all murder victims, reports Slate. When they show up to retrieve a package containing a victim’s clothing and other possessions, says Susan Herman, a deputy NYPD commissioner, “Everybody wants to look at it before they walk out, but they shouldn’t have to do it in front of lots of strangers in a noisy space.” Thanks to that insight, NYPD reserves quiet, private places for grieving families to “take a moment and be by themselves,” she says. When dozens of such innovations get strung end to end, as NYPD has laid out in a wide-ranging report on its efforts to improve how it eases crime victims’ burden, the cumulative effect can help make a city safer.
Former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton recruited Herman from academia and a career in victim advocacy to head a new Office of Collaborative Policing. The results of Herman’s efforts, nearly five years into her tenure, range from simple tweaks to elaborate initiatives. The department now uses smartphones and other digital technology to streamline the blizzard of paperwork and interviews that victims endure. Privacy screens and waterproof sheets block the view of bodies and blood at crime scenes. Homicide detectives provide regular updates on investigations to family contacts. The centerpiece program—placing two victim advocates in all 86 police precincts and public housing police units to give immediate care to victims—costs $15 million annually. The list of 101 initiatives is infused with trauma-informed practices, changes in police training, and a goal to connect more victims with counseling and reimbursement for funerals, medical costs, lost wages, and other disruptions in their lives.