Loudoun County, Virginia (October 24, 2023) – The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) today announced the launch of a Victim Advocate Unit (VAU) within its Criminal Investigations Division as a pilot program to better serve victims of domestic violence and related crimes before there has been a referral for prosecution.
During the 12-month period ending September 30, 2023, the LCSO received more than 1,100 calls for service related to domestic violence, including calls related to verbal and/or misdemeanor and physical assaults.
The VAU will intervene immediately as cases are referred from the LCSO’s Domestic Violence Unit (DVU) or other units to ensure that victims receive personal support and case-specific resources, regardless of whether the incident involves criminal charges.
“Our Victim Advocate Unit will be an immediate resource for domestic violence and other crime victims, who often don’t know where to go for help in highly stressful situations and before long-term assistance can be secured,” said Sheriff Mike Chapman.
Examples of VAU outreach include providing referrals to juvenile support services, assisting with applications for the Virginia Victims Fund, and providing resources for those facing financial and housing challenges.
“Many of the stressors that contribute to domestic incidents can be addressed through support services available here in Loudoun County,” said Chapman. “Connecting individuals with these services right away will help them in their time of crisis and may prevent more incidents from occurring.”
The VAU represents a further realignment of the LCSO to meet the needs of Loudoun County citizens and best allocate its personnel. It will work cooperatively with LAWS Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services and other stakeholders and complement the work of the Victim Witness Program of the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney (OCA) as well as victim assistance provided through Loudoun County Community Corrections.
Initial staffing includes two LCSO detectives and a sergeant with extensive experience in domestic violence casework and victim outreach. Their assignment to the VAU represents a reallocation of the LCSO’s currently budgeted resources, and the team has been working together since the summer to develop this initiative.
The LCSO expects it will require up to eighteen months to gather information, coordinate with agency partners, assess operations, and develop corresponding policies. Once this pilot period is complete, the LCSO contemplates a more comprehensive program that would ultimately be managed by civilian personnel and expand beyond domestic violence to include victims of other serious personal and property crimes where there is an identifiable gap in service.
Incorporating victim advocate units into existing law enforcement agencies is a recognized best practice nationwide. Further, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) is a strong proponent of victim advocate-type initiatives, along with the decentralization of law enforcement services in furtherance of more effective management and corresponding results. The management realignment announced by the LCSO in June 2023 was based in part on recommendations made by the IACP in its 2022 report to the Board of Supervisors and includes the expansion of the LCSO’s community outreach, financial crimes unit, patrols, and new Victim Advocate Unit.
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