Tell Us About It: Victim Research ConvosPodcasts
In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.
Tell Us About It Episode 30: Building Victim Services with Research at the Saginaw Police Department
A convo with Brittany Jeffers and James BowersSep 03Time: 33:00
Join Brittany Jeffers, the victim services specialist and unit coordinator of the Saginaw Police Department, and Dr. James Bowers, a criminal justice professor at Saginaw Valley State University, as they share their experience in conducting and using research to inform the development of law enforcement-based victim services. They also discuss the elements that have contributed to their long-term successful partnership.
Susan [00:00:01] Welcome to “Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos,” a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of “Tell Us About It,” we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for victim services.
Susan [00:00:22] Today, we’re talking with Brittany Jeffers, victim services specialist and unit coordinator for the Saginaw Police Department, and James Bowers, associate professor of criminal justice at Saginaw Valley State University. Welcome to the podcast, both of you.
James [00:00:39] Thank you for having us.
Susan [00:00:41] You two have been working together for a while now. Brittany, can you tell us about how you first started to work together?
Brittany [00:00:51] Back in 2014, the Saginaw Police Department applied for the Enhancing Law Enforcement Response to Victims grant, and part of that grant, we had to partner with a research partner and we selected Saginaw Valley State University to partner with us. And we’ve been working together ever since.
Susan [00:01:13] James, why were you and Saginaw Valley State interested?
James [00:01:17] Well, our partnership really began with Saginaw Police Department in 2016, and Lieutenant Kendziorski got together with a couple of my colleagues, Carol Zimmermann and Joni Boye-Beaman, in March of 2016. And Lieutenant Kendziorski really wanted to improve the Saginaw Police Department delivery of victim support services. And there were lots of obstacles and challenges, and the victims needed this help to overcome those challenges. But this partnership came out of a need for the victims, but also the need for us to use our skills as researchers. But, you know, it goes back to the earlier ways when we started to measure some of the problems in the areas. In May of 2016, we did a SWOT analysis — and that stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — and that analysis really looked at the issues facing the community. And there are a whole bunch of people there at that meeting from the CAN Council, to local hospital representatives, and clergy. But this can also be answered other way, too. Our partnership goes back even further with Project Safe Neighborhoods research, which was awarded in 2015, and I was involved with that as an outcome evaluation. But they can also go back further than that. In 2013, the Saginaw County Crime Prevention Council is a community partnership that meets monthly, and it brings together chiefs of police, state troopers, clergy, citizens, and judges, and lawyers, and anybody who wants to show up on the campus of SVSU to talk about the issues facing the community. So it could be answered on a couple of different levels, but we’ve been working with Saginaw Police Department in one way, shape, or form for years.
Susan [00:03:00] That’s quite a history that you will have working together. So let’s talk about your work together on the ELERV project. What did you learn from the data collection or even about data collection in that first phase? James, why don’t you start?
James [00:03:14] Okay. Well, originally the research team and Lieutenant Kendziorski wanted to get community feedback with a paper survey that we mailed to community members. And this started out as a great idea, but it didn’t work. The respondents had a low response rate, and the respondents tend to be overwhelmingly white and have higher incomes. And they didn’t quite match the census data that we have for the city. So we went back to the drawing board and ended up switching to online surveys that were distributed with Facebook and SurveyGizmo. And our final sample was over 300 and the demographics were more of a match with the census estimates. These surveys are great because they show the satisfaction of Saginaw Police Department from the community citizens, as well as some feedback and concerns the systems may have. For example, 6 percent of the victims of the community survey did not report the crime to police. That means that they were victims of crime — they said they were victims of crime, but did not report that to the police. And 6 percent is a very high number. So we wanted to find out and understand more about the community and why is that, and future research can look at that research. We’re just looking at basic understanding and basic demographics at that point. And this research gives citizens a voice. We also conducted focus groups with local homeless shelters and a variety of different research projects. So, again, it goes back to how best to get the data, and sometimes we just have to go back to the drawing board and find a better way.
Susan [00:04:48] Yeah, it sounds like you needed a lot of flexibility and a lot of continual examining what you were doing and the results you were getting. Brittany, what struck you about the data collection process or the lessons you were learning in that first phase?
Brittany [00:05:03] During that first phase, we were really hoping to generate information that could help us build a strong base for our victim services program. And it did give us some insight into what the community was lacking from their local law enforcement and from victim services. So James was able to put together, James and Joni, were able to put together a report that reflected what the victims’ needs were, what community members and community agencies were seeing as gaps of service. And that’s what we started to slowly build upon when developing our current program, and kind of set goals and milestones for what we wanted to work towards in order to meet those current gaps of services.
Susan [00:05:53] So I know you mentioned that the ELERV project required local police departments to have a research partner, but the ELERV funding has ended and you two are still working together. So what prompted you to continue that partnership? Brittany, why don’t you start with that one?
Brittany [00:06:11] When it was ending, we decided that we wanted to apply for additional funding that was similar to the ELERV grant, which allowed us to apply for the LEV grant. And this grant did not have a research component. It was optional if you wanted to partner with the researcher. And coming up at ELERV, we gathered so much information, we just did not have enough time under that grant to implement and explore all of that data. So coming into ELERV, Lieutenant Kendziorski and I had a discussion that we thought it would be really beneficial to again partner with SVSU and explore some of the data that we were just touching on during the end of ELERV and bringing that into this current grant. And we wanted to continue partnering with James because he was with us during the ELERV grant and he knew the work that we were doing, the outcomes we were looking for, and the data that we still have left to kind of dive into. So luckily, he want to partner again with us and kind of start where we had ended off with the ELERV grant and pick back up. We want to do some, some new surveys, test the waters again in the community and see where our current gaps of service are, or if we’ve kind of hit some of our goals already and where there are other areas of improvement. And, you know, these opportunities, grants and things like that, are a great way to use extra funding, extra funding to get feedback from the community that the department here would not otherwise be able to do if not partnered with a researcher. That would take the time to do that for us because we don’t have anybody internally that could take the time to develop the surveys, help us mine through all the data, and give us reports on what they gathered from all that information.
Susan [00:08:17] Great. So you really were building on the work that had been done in ELERV, but as you say, mining it and expanding it to inform your current project. James, was there a particular area of interest that you and Saginaw Valley had?
James [00:08:35] I’m thankful to work at a university that values community service, community research, and community engagement. And there’s still a lot of work that has to be done with this project. I like this project — it’s valuable, it’s meaningful, it’s great research, too, to understand. And there’s a lot of work to be done. The ELERV funding is over and we’re thankful to still have that support of OVC with a current grant. This grant identifies gaps in the service. And so some of the research has been delayed due to COVID, but right now I feel we’re on the right track and this first year has just been a little bit of, you know, we’ve got to focus and we’re focusing on getting the victims and their feedback with mostly right now electronic surveys. The e-survey can be taken at the police station or on their phone with the link to Survey Monkey use. It used to be SurveyGizmo and now it’s Survey Monkey. Future research should also focus on community support, feedback, and any challenges that an agency such as the CAN Council or other agencies may have with SPD or victim services unit, as well as officer feedback of what do they think about the victim services unit? There’s a lot of different ways that the gaps can be measured and identified. There’s just been a lot of good training that SPD has gone through with IACP and the focus really is on empowering the victims, understanding victims’ issues, and moving towards the right direction with serving the victims.
Susan [00:10:10] Wow, it sounds like there are just a lot of aspects to this project that are really exciting that will really inform your program. Brittany, you have had this partnership with James and Saginaw Valley for some time. What do you think have been the keys to a successful research partnership from a practitioner’s standpoint?
Brittany [00:10:32] It was really important for us here at the police department to partner with a researcher that was either local or knew a lot about our community, and SVSU was both of that. And and James was aware of the dynamics within the city of Saginaw and the history of the city and kind of what it’s gone through over the years, what the police department has gone through over the years. And that really made a difference. He was, uh, SVSU was very attached to our community because they’re part of our community and they were not an outsider trying to come in and perform research that would just not work in our community. They were able to tailor the way that they conducted the research in a way that would be effective in our community. And that was one of our biggest keys to success because they knew how to develop things that would get responses. And they knew how to interact with our with our officers because they were from this area and they could connect with each other and they weren’t, you know, somebody from a totally different state or, you know, even an hour or two from here that was disconnected from this area. So I think that was a really big benefit to us to partner with SVSU as opposed to a different university somewhere else in Michigan.
Susan [00:12:13] I can see where that would be important. James, have you observed anything else that you think have been keys to the successful partnership you to have or your, your programs have?
James [00:12:24] I really think that the researchers, you know, in current projects for future projects and, you know, what we’ve been doing need to have that contact with agencies and they’re going to be in contact at least on a monthly basis. And they need to be open communication with all the partners involved. Our partnership works well because Dave and Brittany are just 10 minutes down the road is pretty was saying. They come to SVSU campus many times and we as researchers went to SPD agency, the building itself many times; that face-to-face contact, that locality is needed, you know, it helps with sharing of information that helps with the good partnership. And Brittany also shares a lot of the newsletters and statistics from the victim tracking program. And those newsletters that are sent out really puts everybody on the same page. And that’s one thing that I’ve really noticed about Saginaw, and it’is that there are lots of people out there like Nancy Johnson, Saginaw County Crime Prevention Council. They get this good news out there. And so oftentimes, mainstream media talks about a negative event and that is important, but rarely cover the positive events such as light up the city and those type of events. And so there’s that there’s a movement now towards, you know, talking about the positives also. So it really is about sharing of information. It’s about working together. It’s about collaboration. I have nothing but respect and trust with SPD. I feel, you know, all the trainings I’ve been to with them and we’ve learned a lot from each other over the years.
Susan [00:13:53] Those are good points to bear in mind. I want to — I want to explore further you said that you’ve done some trainings with the Saginaw Police Department. What else have you done to become familiar with the workings of the Saginaw Police Department that have enabled you to really understand the context for this research?
James [00:14:13] So starting with the trainings, I think that going with the training, you like vicarious trauma training. I sat there pretty much, you know, I was like the researcher, a fly on the wall. I was able to listen to the officers talk to each other, and see them go from, you know, is what — “What is this training really about?” to, “Wow, this training was really useful.” And so, you know, that training, vicarious trauma training, given by Chris Scallon is tremendously — it’s tremendously powerful. I think that all police officers should listen to that, because if officers aren’t up to speed, then they’re not serving the community as best as they could be. And so that vicarious trauma can build up and hinder an officer from being the best officer they can be. And so seeing that stuff and looking at the data and looking at the feedback and hearing it firsthand gives a new perspective. And so really it’s about, you know, them opening up to me, and I think in some areas, some officers may not want to talk to researchers or the media or the news in general out of fear that something might be taken out of context or something on those lines, but I feel that, you know, I have a good working relationship with SPD now. I’ve given numerous feedback surveys, I’ve sat in the break rooms, you know, to talk, you know, one-on-one with them a couple of times, and I feel like a lot of the officers can open up and talk to me about different things. And a lot of that stuff really does dovetail with what I’m hearing from the community survey’s issues. You know, the officers, you know, they talk to me about staffing problems and staffing issues, and many agencies have that. And so to look at that and compare that to the census data, all this, you know, dovetails nicely to tell the story of Saginaw. And that’s what research is about. Research tells a story. The data tells a story, and it kind of all ties together. And there were some challenges a few years ago. But both the officers and the community are reporting that Saginaw and SPD are doing well and definitely moving in the right direction. And something else I want to add is that we’ve had lots of on-site meetings at SPD and that’s been really instrumental with these on-site meetings where IACP, you know, comes to Saginaw, everybody comes together to talk about “What do we know? What do we not know? What direction are we moving towards with the research?” and to show that progress in a measurable evidence-based way. That is the ELERV initiative. And also, we’ve had all-sites meetings in places like Austin, Texas, and San Diego, where all of the agencies come together. So we had Chattanooga, we had Casper, Wyoming, and us all come together. And that’s absolutely priceless because, you know, a lot of us were wondering, you know, “Are we measuring it the right way? Could be measured in a better way?” And so for us to compare and contrast researchers was eye-opening. And so there’s no one way to measure crime. There’s no one way to measure issues or problems in the community. And so we kind of learned from each other. So for a whole bunch of different reasons, you know, just the face-to-face talking, the time that we spent together, we’ve gone through a lot as researchers and, you know, working with our partners through the past couple years to better serve victims and to better meet the needs of the victims. So I think there’s a whole bunch of ways that could be answered. But it’s really about trust. It’s about communication. It’s about opening up to each other.
Susan [00:17:43] A lot of good tips in there, thank you. Brittany, from inside the police department, what have you observed? What do you think has been the effect of having James or others from Saginaw Valley have a presence at the department?
Brittany [00:18:00] Well, it’s no secret that law enforcement kind of always has their guard up or are very reserved when outsiders come into the agency and especially want to conduct research or ask for feedback surveys. There’s always a hesitation. And it was great that James came in and introduced himself. He got to know the officers. He explained why he was doing this research, how it would be anonymous, and that it was only going to be used to benefit the police department and to benefit the community. And I think because James was around the building, he was going on conference trips with us and other officers. He was able to have conversations. And that’s — I don’t think people would have assumed their conversation they were having with James could be mined for data. But I think James was able to pull information from his conversations with officers while we were out to dinner or something like that, and just gain a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish here at the police department, and what the officers are wanting to do with our grants and the programs that we’re developing. So a lot of that just, you know, in personal conversations that James was only able to have because he was present here and doing something over the phone or sending out an email, I don’t think he would have got the response or the openness that he received.
Susan [00:19:40] So that’s great. You’ve both talked about how this relationship between the two of you, between the department and university researchers, and relationships with the community have been really key. Have there been any tools that have been particularly helpful as you have tried to better gather data or explore what you’re doing? Brittany?
Brittany [00:20:08] I think we would honestly be lost without our software program. We use victim service tracking software and it’s a cloud-based program where we are able to input all of our victim demographic information service information, all of our documentation and notes, court information, investigative information, everything goes into this one program. And I am able to access it whether I am at home working remotely or if I’m in my office at the department. And it generates very easy to read reports that lined right up with our grant reporting requirements through the grant. And it’s just a very simple tool to use. I can print out a report and I can send it to James, so James can look at that. All the data for the victims that we received or we worked with in that reporting period and kind of match it to any of the feedback surveys we’re getting or to the gaps that were mentioned in a previous survey. We can look and see, well, are we not responding or servicing a large Hispanic population at this point in time? Can we be working on that more? So they feel more comfortable reporting or they feel more comfortable speaking with victim services. And so that has been probably one of the best tools that we purchased in order to make our program successful.
Susan [00:21:51] James, anything to add there?
James [00:21:53] Yes. As a researcher, I use lots of different ways of looking at the data. For the quantitative data, the number data, I use mostly SPSS, which is common in my field. And we also use SurveyGizmo and Survey Monkey to write some statistical analysis with means, median, mode, and also the census data to provide the context for a lot of the reports that I use so it can be all tied together. The qualitative data is data that looks for themes and that can be done by SurveyGizmo for some questions, but also by myself as a researcher looking for themes in the answers. One thing that we found in the research is that, you know, some people did not want to contact the police in the past for problems, but now they do. So there’s a movement, again, in the right direction. We know that there are lots of — they know that there are lots of services for people now that can reach out for help. And another way to look at themes is word art. And so what word art does is SurveyGizmo makes this, and it’s a graphical representation of the most frequently used words in a graphical way so that you can see what the most common responses were. With PowerPoint presentations that I’ve done, you have limited space and you have to get the message across that both conveys the message and keeps the viewers interested in the content. And so you have that challenge to use the data, make it meaningful, get to the focus of what it’s actually saying. And also I’ve added some other stuff with my presentations. Driving down the road, there’s this mural that says “Saginawesome.” And I took a picture of that, it’s on a wall. A citizen of the city of Saginaw painted it on one — and it’s close to the police department. So I came across it while I was driving around the city to take a better look at the city, an understanding of the city. And that’s in some of the PowerPoint slides. So there’s a couple of different ways that you can use tools to tell the story. So quantitative is good, qualitative is good, too, to understand the information.
Susan [00:23:55] So a lot of commercially available tools and some that you just make up on your own.
James [00:23:59] Yes.
Susan [00:23:59] Finding the perfect visual.
James [00:24:01] Absolutely. Yes, a lot of these programs are paid for through the university. We have university subscriptions for SPSS and now Survey Monkey.
Susan [00:24:10] Brittany, you mentioned that you try to survey victims that you have served. What are you learning about that process of getting victim feedback?
Brittany [00:24:20] So right now, we’ve been doing it for about, James, what would you want say? Like, a month and a half now? And I was nervous that we weren’t going to get a lot of feedback. I was nervous that the victims wouldn’t want to voice their opinions on the victim services unit or the Saginaw Police Department or their interaction. But from what I’ve gathered, a lot of, or some victims have responded via email, so I don’t know what their feedback is. But the ones that I’ve conducted over the phone, individuals are willing to talk and they want to be heard. And these feedback surveys have been a great way for them to anonymously provide feedback, whether it’s on the victim services unit or the Saginaw Police Department on their interaction with officers or just what they want to see more in the community as far as victim support. It’s been, I think it’s been beneficial. I’m excited to see James, his report when we get more survey feedback or feedback surveys sent in. I’m excited to see if there’s any trends. You know, if there’s any areas that we can use to develop new programs from or new ideas. But so far, I think we’ve made some progress with these feedback surveys.
Susan [00:25:56] James, I know it’s been pretty early in this process, you know, Brittany’s only been gathering this information for a month and a half. But I know that researchers struggle with how do you promote participation from program respondents? Are you learning anything from this part of the project?
James [00:26:18] I think that with most feedback surveys that people will want to provide their feedback. And so you just have to ask them the questions and listen to what they’re saying, but also what their response is. We have to look at, you know, what do we know and what we not know. Are we asking the right questions? Should we ask more questions or different questions? But I think that the feedback so far has been — the numbers are good. I haven’t yet looked at the report yet because I didn’t want to know, you know, the first couple of responses to bias what I think the rest of them are going to be. So I’m going to have a cutoff date for a certain group here. Now, I’m going to start analyzing it for the next report that’s due on [August] 31. And there’s another report due next month. So pretty much those two reports will probably highly similar. But you know how to get more feedback? That’s a good question. I’m not sure how to, how to encourage more feedback, but I do believe that people will want to share their feedback. They’ll want to share their experience. They want to share their story. And they’ll want to be heard. And this provides a means for that.
Susan [00:27:28] Brittany, you’ve talked about this quite a bit already as we’ve talked today. But can you explain again how the research and data analysis that you are getting through this project is guiding the work of victim services and the way that you’re developing your program?
Brittany [00:27:46] So here at the police department, we could assume that the community is needing this service or we’re lacking in this area. But that would honestly just be us assuming. And the only way that we could know for sure is if we asked the community. So by conducting, having SVSU conduct this research for us and develop feedback surveys for internally — internal use here at the police department and for external use with community agencies as well as community members were able to evaluate our program and make sure that we’re still doing what the community needs us to do. And we’re still being as transparent as we should be and providing as much information to the community as we should be and that we are addressing the current gaps for service in our community. And with only we were able to know that we’re still doing that properly is by conducting surveys and gathering information from the community who are the ones using our resources.
Susan [00:28:57] Well, you two have quite a track record for working together. But now looking forward, what do you see as, what do you see for your future partnership? Brittany, why don’t we start from the practitioner standpoint for you and the police department.
Brittany [00:29:13] For us, we would love to continue partnering with SVSU. We are able to gain so much insight from the research that they do and are able to — continuously evaluate ourselves and make sure that we’re providing the services that our community needs and are providing our community with an anonymous feedback location, you know, they’re able to complete these surveys through SVSU anonymously. And they are able to be honest and open. And when we get that data from SVSU, it’s always a learning tool for us, and we’re always able to pull something positive from it and able to build upon it for the next grant or what we want to work on for this next fiscal year, whatever it may be. I would like to see that continue indefinitely in some way, even if it’s just a having a contact within the university of — we would like to continue on with this, with our partnership, even if it’s in the sense of having a contact like James within the university that we can go to with research questions and evaluation questions, and we can just ask, you know, we want to try to generate this information. How do we go about doing that?
Susan [00:30:43] James, what do you see for the future partnership?
James [00:30:46] I also would like to see the partnership continue. We have been fortunate to have the students work with Saginaw Police Department over the years as interns. I’m fortunate to work with them. We’ve had some students enter data with Project Safe Neighborhoods, the ELERV project, they’ve worked with Tammy and Brittany with entering data. And we’re always looking for those partnerships that benefit the community. I like to involve students in research as much as I can. Before the COVID crisis started, there were students lined up to help with crime mapping projects. The lieutenant wanted to use ArcGIS, the geographic information system, crime mapping technology. That’s a powerful tool and a lot of our students have that skill to bring to the table. It also helps build their resumé and helps the community. So I would like to see these partnerships continue, and even when the grant is over, I would still work with the project as needed to gather the data, analyze the data, and publish reports to the various agencies that need it.
Susan [00:31:49] Well, I want to thank both of you for your time today. It’s been so exciting to see this type of local partnership become incorporated into a standard part of the agency’s work and the university’s connection to the community. Thank you both for sharing your experience with us.
James [00:32:08] Thank you for having us.
Brittany [00:32:10] Thank you for having me.
Susan [00:32:12] We hope you enjoyed this episode of “Tell Us About It.” If there are research or practice experts you’d like to interview or research tools you’d like us to feature on this podcast, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Closing [00:32:27] “Tell Us About It” is a production of the Center for Victim Research, funded by the Office for Victims of Crime’s Vision 21 Initiative through Cooperative Agreement Number 2016-XVGX-K006. The Office for Victims of Crime is part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. However, the points of view and opinions discussed on this podcast are those of the host and expert contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.