Unified Crime Victim Support in Berks County Gets Spotlight From Pennsylvania Commission

Safe Berks

BERKS COUNTY, PA — Berks County is making significant strides in forming a comprehensive network that ensures victims receive adequate support. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) recently highlighted Berks County for its unified approach in aiding victims and emphasized the need for Governor Shapiro’s proposed $5 million enhancement to the Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) in the 2024-25 state budget.

PCCD’s Director of the Office of Victims’ Services, Kathy Buckley, expressed her solidarity with crime survivors. She reiterated the effectiveness of programs like VCAP and the importance of creating a system that works in unison to uplift those affected by violence and crime.

An exemplification of this system’s efficacy is Safe Berks, a local victim service program that gives comprehensive support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Many crime survivors in Berks County have already found consolation in the program, with countless victims receiving help through the hotline, emergency shelter, assistance with protection orders, and counseling sessions since the beginning of 2024.

Safe Berks CEO Beth Garrigan praised the multi-disciplinary approach of the county, which ensures a coordinated response to minimize re-traumatization during the investigation and prosecution process. The collaboration with essential agencies like the DA’s Office, Reading Police Department, and the Children’s Alliance Center, Garrigan stated, is crucial in delivering the support survivors need.

Additionally, Berks County has developed specialized initiatives to support crime victims. The Children’s Alliance Center offers services to child abuse victims, aiding roughly 350 children annually. Its multi-disciplinary strategy reduces trauma by uniting law enforcement, child protective services, advocacy agencies, and health professionals in the same space.

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The Berks County Victim/Witness Assistance Unit, established to assist victims and their families throughout the criminal justice process, serves approximately 6,000 individuals each year. This unit of the Berks County District Attorney’s Office provides court accompaniment, case information and notification, among other free services.

In its efforts to curb domestic violence fatalities, Berks County has the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP). This initiative, a partnership between local law enforcement agencies and Safe Berks, aims to prevent domestic violence-related homicides and injuries by connecting victims to potentially life-saving services.

Moreover, the Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP), administered by PCCD, has been instrumental in offering financial assistance to crime victims. In the past half-decade, PCCD has settled more than 76,000 VCAP claims totaling $65 million in eligible expenses, covering all 67 Pennsylvania counties. The VCAP effort has been successful due to the active collaboration with Pennsylvania police departments making it possible for victims to receive their financial aid promptly.

The Berks County approach, focusing on collaboration and a multi-disciplinary system, underlines the importance of unity in combating the impacts of crime and violence. It sets a noteworthy precedent for other counties and states, demonstrating that when systems work together, the lives of those affected can significantly improve. Moreover, it emphasizes the necessity of continued funding and investment in such programs, revealing the profound impact they can have on a community.

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