Victim Centered Investigations: COPS/PERF Report Gets It All Wrong

Richard Davis

November 14, 2016

An early report from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) documents that before putting any crime prevention program in place. its effectiveness must first be demonstrated: But earlier this year the Department of Justice, through its Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) released the report, Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence:

The COPS/PERF document advocates for what is often referred to as a “victim-centered” approach to investigations of allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence. A “victim-centered” approach is often described as “start by believing” the complainant ( A Human Rights Watch document explains the victim-centered approach this way: “Assume that all sexual assault cases are valid unless established otherwise by investigative findings.”

The COPS/PERF report makes the following recommendation:

“Make victims aware that they are in control over the extent of their involvement [emphasis added] in the criminal justice process, and empower victims to participate on their own terms [emphasis added] and in a manner that vindicates their rights, allows their voices to be heard, and appropriately balances their individual rights to privacy, security, dignity, and self-determination with the public interest in prosecuting perpetrators.” (page 14)

The report goes so far as to tell police investigators to allow the complainant “to request certain investigative steps not be conducted.” (page 13)

This represents a radical departure from the usual method of police detective work and violates ethical codes to conduct investigations in an impartial manner. If the complainant is in control of the investigation, how will officers be able to conduct an unbiased investigation and reach the probable cause standard to decide whether an arrest should be made?  How can there be a fair and unbiased investigation when this victim centered policy demands the officers ignore standard law enforcement procedures concerning investigations?

When anyone reports that their house has been broken into, when they allege an assault, or reports any crime, officers do not and cannot begin with “believing” the complainant. Allowing people who claim they have been victimized to control the law enforcement investigation defies logic and fairness. The victim centered approach makes it impossible for officers to be fair, impartial, and objective seekers of the truth.


Richard Davis is a former Police Lieutenant with the Brockton Police Department, Duxbury, Massachusetts.