For immediate release: Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Victims’ assistance and medical professionals, law enforcement and elected officials
call attention to crime victims’ rights, mark Crime Victims’ Rights Week
Empty shoe display in Buffalo illustrates steps victims take on the
path to justice, strides made to ensure their voices are heard
BUFFALO – A strappy pair of high-heeled sandals – metallic silver – sits on a lawn outside the Walter J. Mahoney Building on Franklin Street. Sensible-soled men’s loafers are nearby, as is a pair of pink and white sneakers, each decorated with a sparkly pink heart and rhinestones, perfect for a girl of 4.
Those shoes – more than 300 others – are part of “Making Strides for Crime Victims,” a display created to mark Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which has been designated as the week of April 26 through May 2 in New York State by Governor David A. Paterson.
Coordinated by the New York State Crime Victims Board and the Erie County District Attorney’s office, the display of empty shoes is designed to illustrate the steps that crime victims take on their path to justice and the strides made by law enforcement, victims’ assistance professionals, and state and local officials to assist victims, protect their rights and ensure their voices are heard in the criminal justice system. The shoes will be on display until Friday; they will be donated to charity.
“We wanted a unique way to illustrate the fact that crime can touch anyone,” said Tina M. Stanford, chairwoman of the Crime Victims Board. “The diversity of styles and sizes of the shoes on display is a reminder that individuals from all walks of life can be the victim of a crime.”
Added Mayor Byron W. Brown: “The shoes displayed at the Mahoney State Office Building are a powerful reminder of our collective responsibility to protect the rights of all crime victims here, across the state and throughout our nation. While we mark Crime Victims’ Rights Week in late April, we must guarantee that the rights of all crime victims are protected throughout the year, every year.”
“My administration has dedicated itself to lowering the crime rate in Buffalo, which we have succeeded in doing over the past three years, and we will continue to work with our partners at all levels of government to fight crime, pursue and prosecute criminals, and, most importantly, care for the rights of all crime victims,” Mayor Brown said.
Chairwoman Stanford, Mayor Brown and District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III were joined at the Mahoney Building today by other law enforcement and elected officials and victims’ assistance and medical professionals to showcase the “Making Strides” display and highlight a partnership between the District Attorney’s Office and Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) that provides immediate assistance to anyone who is the victim of a gunshot or stabbing.
The program was borne out of discussions that began more than two years ago and were spearheaded by Kathleen Mehltretter, the acting U.S. Attorney for Western New York, and two officials from ECMC: Ann Victor-Lazarus, vice president for quality outcomes, and Peggy Cramer, vice president of trauma and emergency services.
District Attorney Sedita explained: “They recognized that the victims of violent crime suffer from more than the trauma of their physical injuries, but often lacked the resources to navigate through the criminal justice system. This program is the result of their vision and dedication.”
“Through the selfless, tireless and compassionate efforts of the medical personnel of ECMC and the Victim/Witness Assistance staff, we were able to help these victims recover from all of their injuries,” District Attorney Sedita added. “I am so proud to stand here today in solemn recognition of all of the victims of crime.”
Four members of the victim/witness assistance staff from the DA’s office are trained to respond to ECMC within an hour of a victim’s arrival at the Emergency Department, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“You are meeting people at a time when they are really vulnerable and scared,” said Sharon Simon, who coordinates homicide and witness protection services for the District Attorney’s office. “They remember who you are, and that you were there at 3 a.m., stayed and promised to be in touch. You can’t trade that interaction for anything else.”
After the initial visits, victim/witness staff members reconnect with victims within 24 hours to reinforce the relationships they have established and then continue to support the victims and their families, providing individualized assistance depending on their needs until cases are resolved.
Early intervention also provides those individuals who have been hurt as a result of their involvement in illegal activity the opportunity to get assistance and support so they can change their behavior and break the cycle of violence.
“Many of these patients are injured and damaged in more than one way. We can fix the physical injury but you are not getting at the root of the problem,” said Ronald Moscati, an ECMC Emergency Department physician who also worked to establish the program. “By taking a more multidisciplinary, comprehensive look at the patient’s needs and trying to meet those needs, we can reduce the likelihood that they will be victimized in the future.”
More than 400 men and women have been served through the program since its inception in late March 2008.
In addition to the DA’s Victim/Witness Assistance program, the Crime Victims Board provides funding to five other organizations in Erie County that serve crime victims: Child and Adolescent Treatment Services; the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center; the Erie County Probation Department; Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services; and the Northwest Buffalo Community Center Victim Program. The programs currently receive a total of $1.2 million.
“The Crime Victims Board’s key mission is very clear – to provide compensation to innocent victims of crime in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner,” Chairwoman Stanford said. “The board and its staff are committed to working in partnership with law enforcement and victims’ services agencies across the state to ensure that all victims get the help and support they need so they can rebuild their lives.”
The board provided more than $29 million in grants to nearly 200 victim assistance programs throughout New York State during the 2007-08 fiscal year. Also that year, the board awarded $27 million to crime victims and their families through personal injury and death claims, as well as claims for essential personal property, which reimburse victims for the repair or replacement of items damaged or lost as the result of a crime, such as eyeglasses, cash or clothing.
Funding for victims’ assistance programs and compensation to crime victims is generated through fines, mandatory surcharges, and crime victim assistance fees that certain offenders pay after conviction in either state or federal court. For example, an individual convicted of a felony in New York State must pay a $300 mandatory surcharge and a $25 crime victim assistance fee. Federal funding for victims’ assistance programs and victims’ compensation has been available since 1984, when the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) was enacted. The theme of this year’s Crime Victims’ Rights Week is “25 Years of Rebuilding Lives: Celebrating the Victims of Crime Act.”
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week has been marked annually since 1981. It is designed to call attention to the life-changing impact crime has on victims and their loved ones, to highlight services available to assist crime victims and to reinforce the message that victims’ voices need to be heard throughout the criminal justice system.
Established in 1966, the Crime Victims Board has offices in Buffalo, Albany and Brooklyn. The board is governed by five members, all of whom are appointed for seven-year terms by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate. For more information, visit www.ovs.ny.gov.