Office of Justice Programs (OJP)

Boston Homicide Survivor/Witness Victim Advocate Program

BJA Program(s): Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program
State(s): MA

Grantee Agency: See below

Grant Amount/Year(s): FY 2010/$64,310

About the Program:

Homicide rates are often the barometer by which the public and researchers alike judge public safety. On a community-wide level, homicides represent a loss of social control. For the families of murder victims, homicides often bring about feelings of helplessness and loss of personal control. Despite shared common goals- to make people accountable for their criminal actions- each part of the criminal justice system operates under a specific set of organizational goals, policies, and procedures. The organization's role in the system directs those goals, and those goals shape the way professionals do their jobs and, in turn, the way professionals work with the bereaved. The Boston Police Department (BPD) Homicide Unit has steadfastly adhered to policies and renewed commitments to honor the memories of murder victims and treat their surviving loved ones with dignity, compassion and professionalism. JAG funds support a Homicide Survivor/ Witness Victim Advocate in the Homicide Unit at BPD to provide appropriate services and referrals to surviving families of homicide victims and to witnesses in homicide investigations. The Victim Witness Advocate is often the among the first to respond to victims' surviving family members and acts as a BPD liaison to non-profit and governmental agencies; victim rights organizations, and community groups in the Boston area on issues concerning homicides and gang violence. The Advocate is also responsible for Crisis Intervention and Referrals, Victim of Violent Crime Compensation, Safety Planning, and Data Collection and Reporting.

Program Successes/Effect on the Community:

The Victim Witness Advocate made various resources available to family members of victims, including: Victim Compensation, Center for Homicide Bereavement, relocation assistance, trauma response, funeral/burial arrangements, and visas. In addition, working with the Boston Public Health Commission and the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, the Advocate has facilitated a community meeting on children affected by a homicide involving a minor, as well as held meetings for families of unsolved cases with the BPD Homicide Unit. The Advocate also accompanied the families during meetings with homicide investigators at the family's residences. In addition, she wrote a proposal for possible funding towards a summer resource community event; collaborated with the BPD's finance department to establish a bank account for the victim/witness program special event; and was involved with planning stages for a summer resource community event that has yet to be determined.

From January 1, 2011 to the present (as of 7/10/11), Boston has faced 26 homicides. The Victim Witness Advocate position serves a critical function that allows the BPD investigators more time to concentrate on the particulars of their investigations while the advocate provides the necessary dedicated time, support, and access to services that survivors and witnesses require. Prior to the Victim Advocate being hired in 2006, the BPD Homicide Unit investigators acted as the initial points of contract for the victims' families and any witnesses to these crimes and the first source of information for the families and witnesses. Following a homicide, information on such issues as the retrieval of personal belongings, the state's Victim Compensation Fund, funeral arrangements, crime scene clean-up, immediate safety-planning, and bereavement counseling are of imminent concern. In many instances, these cases may remain pending in court for upward of three years. Consequently, as new cases arise and rates of annual homicides continue to grow, so too do the caseloads in the Homicide Unit. With the addition of the Victim Advocate, the Homicide Unit is able to offer surviving family and loved ones a source of support, information, and connection to local services. The position also allows the BPD to continue to successfully implement community policing, which emphasizes establishing relationships with members of a neighborhood. The Advocate has become an indispensable resource to the BPD and to Boston's homicide survivor community. The Victim Witness Advocate made various resources available to family members of victims, including: Victim Compensation, Center for Homicide Bereavement, relocation assistance, trauma response, funeral/burial arrangements, and visas. In addition, working with the Boston Public Health Commission and the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, the Advocate has facilitated a community meeting on children affected by a homicide involving a minor, as well as held meetings for families of unsolved cases with the BPD Homicide Unit. The Advocate also accompanied the families during meetings with homicide investigators at the family’s residences. In addition, she wrote a proposal for possible funding towards a summer resource community event; collaborated with the BPD's finance department to establish a bank account for the victim/witness program special event; and was involved with planning stages for a summer resource community event that has yet to be determined.

Learn More:
To learn more about the program, please contact:
Cheryl Joyce
Grants Manager Program Coordinator
Email: joycec.bpd@cityofboston.gov
Phone: 617-343-5858

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