Those two words might be the most difficult for any victim of violence to say.
Yet, award-winning author and internationally renowned speaker Azim Khamisa knows no other way than practicing forgiveness. Following the murder of his son in 1995 by a 14-year-old gang member, he chose the compassionate path and committed himself to halting the continuing cycle of violence among youth.
In April, Orange County law enforcement officers, nonprofit staff, service providers, victims and community members heard Mr. Khamisa deliver his powerful message of forgiveness, reconciliation, conflict resolution and restorative justice at the 11th annual Victims’ Rights Conference and Awards Luncheon.
Community Service Programs, Inc. (CSP) holds this event to provide training for individuals within the victim service community and to celebrate the progressive work occurring in Orange County to support victims of crime. This year, with a conference theme of “Engaging Communities and Empowering Victims,” CSP directed special emphasis toward the superlative work law enforcement officers are doing in Orange County.
The Path to Cohesion
Government and nonprofit entities often work in silos, each feeling that the other organization’s objectives are too different to create a cohesive partnership. However, Orange County has demonstrated a singular ability to engage communities and empower victims through public-private partnerships, such as those CSP fosters with local law enforcement.
Although this collaboration is a rarity across the nation, it isn’t a new phenomenon for Orange County. In fact, it began more than 40 years ago with a pilot project providing diversion services to at-risk youth. Then-counselor and now CSP executive director Margot Carlson held office in law enforcement agencies.
Initially, the fledgling experiment didn’t take off quickly. Law enforcement officers couldn’t identify with the do-gooders occupying their space or see the benefit of their involvement. It didn’t take long, however, for everyone to recognize the real value working together brought to local communities. The partnership continues to flourish, and every law enforcement agency in the county works with CSP through its programs.
CSP Helps Law Enforcement Respond to Emerging Issues
CSP projects span a range of formats, all designed in partnership with advocates and law enforcement to enhance services to victims and safety for the community.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, CSP began to work with larger law enforcement agencies to place advocates on site. Santa Ana, Irvine, Huntington Beach and cities served by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department can assist victims of domestic violence and other crimes against persons by leaning on an in-house CSP victim advocate.
Advocates from the Gang Victim Services program also have desks situated in several O.C law enforcement agencies. They respond to victims on scene or at the hospital at the request of law enforcement. Their ability to deliver quick response provides victims with the assistance and resources they need following crimes — resulting in better outcomes for victims and case investigations.
Other examples involve the Orange County Family Justice Center (OCFJC) and the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF), which is administered by CSP. Law enforcement engaged CSP in the initial stages of project development to ensure they considered victims’ needs at every step. CSP also houses advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault at the OCFJC. They work closely with OCFJC law enforcement officers to coordinate interaction with and assistance for victims. OCHTTF brings together law enforcement, district attorneys, CSP victim advocates and a volunteer coordinator to fight human trafficking in our county. This solid alliance now serves as a best-practice model for dealing with the emerging human trafficking issue. Many of these individuals provide training to law enforcement and victim advocates throughout California.
Another way local law enforcement and CSP team up to approach community issues is evident in its field response teams. To understand the enormity of their work, look out for a CSP victim advocate riding along with a Fullerton Police Department officer on any Friday or Saturday night. Their immediate response to domestic violence calls — often during the emotionally charged aftermath of an incident — gives victims hope. They learn there are a variety of options for assistance and safety available to them — knowledge too many victims of domestic violence don’t realize.
Finally, CSP’s Crisis Response Team responds 24/7 at the request of law enforcement to critical incidents including homicides, murder-suicides, kidnappings, bank robberies, suicides, workplace violence and other violent crimes. Team members provide crisis-intervention services to victims, witnesses and community members. Their efforts normalize community members’ sense of vulnerability, fear, loss of trust and anger while helping to mitigate the negative impact crime has on individual neighborhoods or the community at large.
Heroes Are Made, Not Born
The trust that exists between public agencies and nonprofits serving our county has spurred remarkable incidents of strategic teamwork.
At the Victims’ Rights Conference this year, CSP presented a number of awards, including the distinguished Valiant Award, which acknowledges the dedication and sacrifice offered unselfishly by Orange County law enforcement. Fourteen members of law enforcement earned nominations for the award, and all received recognition at the luncheon. Submitted for consideration by their departments, these individual law enforcement personnel stand out because of their extraordinary efforts in fostering public trust and engaging communities in support of crime victims.
These masters of community service highlight the benefit of collaborating with local resources to assure individual victims receive services that address cultural and linguistic requirements, trauma, a climate of fear and other needs based on their circumstances. They prioritize victims, acting to protect their rights, dignity and self-determination.
After careful deliberation, Det. Pete Duran of the Santa Ana Police Department was awarded the 2015 Valiant Award. Det. Duran earned this distinction for his work encouraging cooperation and increasing trust between his department’s Gang Unit and the neighborhood group, “Mothers of Townsend Street.” This dialogue did not come easy. Yet Det. Duran persisted because he felt deep responsibility for building community trust and cooperation, supporting crime victims and reducing gang violence.
Ultimately, the success of CSP’s efforts is dependent upon the cooperative professional relationships with individuals, such as Det. Duran and the other Valiant Award nominees who have shown strength and resilience in dealing with the aftermath of crime victimization.
When victim service providers and public agencies engage in the common goal of empowering victims, everyone in Orange County benefits.
Editor’s note: Ronnetta Johnson is director of Community Service Programs Victim Assistance Programs. CSP is a nonprofit agency committed to serving children, adults and families living in Orange County who are involved with or at risk of involvement with the justice system. CSP’s model programs assist over 111,000 community members annually, including abused children, struggling families, victims of crime, and those in need of mediation services. For more information on CSP and its programs, visit www.cspinc.org.