Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department
Victim classification is benign when matching a victim to the crime, but it can turn ugly when a victim is classified through other criteria. Here’s a simple truth. Anyone can be the victim of a crime. It doesn’t matter the victim’s personal characteristics, or the victim’s place in the social order.
It’s obvious that law abiding citizens expect police officers to possess a high level of integrity. They expect to receive professional police service when they report crimes committed against them. This may come as a surprise to some, but victims with flawed character expect the same treatment from you. Why shouldn’t they? It’s what separates you from them.
You’re going to engage in your own forms of victim classification, because you’re human and subject to prejudices. You’re going to have sympathy for some victims, and you’ll have zero sympathy for others. It’s not a big deal, because sympathy is not part of how you investigate and seek prosecution of crimes. You must never let negative victim classification affect how you pursue facts and solve crimes.
Put Yourself in my Place
This is not a theoretical scenario, because the following events actually occurred. Imagine yourself as a detective lieutenant. You’re returning to the station at the end of a 4×12 shift in an unmarked police car with two detectives. You’re a white male, and both of your detectives are black males. All three of you are working in plainclothes.
As you arrive on the parking lot, the shifts are changing, so there’s a lot of activity. You’re preparing to get out of the car when you notice a young black woman standing near the station’s back entrance. She’s holding a plastic cup in her hand, and she’s looking intently at certain male officers as they exit the building. Every time she sees a black male in plainclothes, she rushes up to him and stares directly in his face.
Just as the three of you are commenting on her movements, she spots you and the detectives sitting in your car. She rushes over to the driver’s side of the car, and she puts her face close to the window. The woman stares at the detective sitting behind the wheel, before she shifts her position to the rear passenger window. She stares at the detective sitting in the back seat. Without saying a word, she walks away, and she continues to accost black officers in plainclothes.
May I Help You?
You get out of your car, and you walk over to the woman. You identify yourself, and you ask the woman if you can help her. She responds to you by saying, “I’m looking for that [expletive] police officer who raped me.” While you comprehend what she just said, she raises her hand holding the plastic cup. The woman shouts, “And, I got the evidence to prove it!” She pushes the cup toward you, and you back away. You suddenly realize that you don’t want to come into contact with the contents of that cup.
You assure the woman that you’re going to help her, and she eventually calms down. She then begins to describe the earlier events of the evening that ultimately lead her to the station’s parking lot. The young woman is a street prostitute. Two hours earlier, she was standing outside a neighborhood bar drinking a soda from the plastic cup she’s now holding. She was approached by a black man who solicited her for a sex act. She and the man agreed on a money amount, and they began walking to his car.
As they crossed the alley next to the bar, the man grabbed her. He roughly pushed her into the alley where he grabbed her again, and he pushed her against a wall. He made her stand with her palms on the wall as he conducted a frisk. When he finished frisking her, he spun her around and held a badge in front of her face. The man identified himself as a police officer as he quickly pulled the badge away and put it in his pocket.
You can probably guess what came next. He gives her a choice. She either performs a sex act on him, or he arrests her and charges her with prostitution. The woman agrees, and the man pushes her to her knees. Immediately after completion of the act, the man zips up, and he’s gone. The woman picks up her soda cup she’d dropped, and she spits the man’s semen into the cup.
A Victim of Victim Classification
After she finishes giving you the details, she adds, “I may be a prostitute, but I’m not stupid. I know what he did is against the law.” Again, she holds up the cup and says, “I know about DNA, too.” You ask if she’d been inside the station to report the crime, and here’s where you become irritated. She tells you she initially tried to report the crime to officers inside the station. She claims they only laughed at her, before they ordered her to leave the station or be “locked up.”
You leave the victim with your two real detectives as you go inside to locate the shift commander. The lieutenant is off, but you locate the sergeant who is the acting shift commander. As you begin to tell the sergeant about the woman on the parking lot, the sergeant cuts you off with laughter. “Yeah, that goofy whore came in here claiming that some police officer raped her.”
As the sergeant’s laughing response trails off, you reply, “Sergeant, you’re telling me that a woman comes into the station and tells you she’s been sexually assaulted by a police officer, and your response is to laugh at her and call her a goofy whore. Is that what you’re telling me, Sergeant?” The expression on the sergeant’s face shows that he understands your displeasure with his response.
Preferred Victim Classification
This is an extreme example, but it is one excellent example of ugly victim classification. In this incident, the victim was not assaulted by a police officer. The suspect was impersonating a police officer, but how much does that matter to the victim who sincerely believed the suspect was a police officer.
Further, her subsequent treatment by real police officers could only reaffirm her initial belief. Think about the harm that’s done when real cops help to instill the image of criminal cops by ignoring and ridiculing a victim. In this case, she simply didn’t fit the preferred victim classification.
You’re going to come into contact with all kinds of victims. The sexual assault victim can be a particularly difficult victim with which to deal. She may insult you, irritate you, and lie to you. None of these negative circumstances mean that a crime has not occurred. Sexual assault victims will frequently lie about certain aspects of the incident, because they believe their own conduct may have contributed to the crime.
You’ll experience victims of all types lying to you for a variety of reasons, so why should a sexual assault victim be any different. Ironically, this victim was completely truthful, but she initially received no credit for her truthfulness.
Victim Classification at all Levels of the Criminal Justice System
The unsympathetic victim will be at risk throughout the criminal justice process. Prosecutors, judges and juries will apply their own definitions of victim classification. How they act on those definitions have no bearing on how you conduct yourself as a professional fact finder.
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