Carolyn Caine
Institute for Policy & Social Research

KU student wins NIJ fellowship to study how police engage with victims of violent crime

Thu, 01/23/2020

LAWRENCE — Patricia Sattler served as the statewide victim assistance coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Justice  for the last eight years of a 16-year practice career, so she’s seen firsthand how it can be difficult for law enforcement officers and victims of violent crimes to communicate and work effectively together. Now a doctoral candidate in the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, Sattler recently won a $78,783 fellowship from the National Institute of Justice to study the influences that shape police decision-making and engagement with victims of violent crimes.

Sattler’s long career as a practitioner informed her research questions for this study. How police treat victims of violent crime, in theory, is governed by the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004 and by state legislation. In practice, however, other factors seem to inform the way police work violent criminal cases, specifically: how they perceive their work, how they think about the victims they work with and how they decide what to do next in an investigation.

“Empirical literature consistently demonstrates that victims of crime experience secondary harms following their engagement with law enforcement, prosecutors and the judiciary,” Sattler said. “A number of microlevel interventions have been developed to address this dynamic, yet victims of crime continue to report negative impacts following interactions with law enforcement. This left me wondering what, beyond individual qualities and characteristics, could be shaping these interactions and the handling of criminal investigations.”

Research shows that how victims are treated affects their level of cooperation with an investigation and eventual prosecution. Without victims’ cooperation, law enforcement officers are hard-pressed to solve many crimes or enhance community safety. Sattler’s study will explore the factors that influence officer’s decision-making and case processing and how these factors shape their engagement with victims of serious violent crime in two states.

Sattler’s study will include interviews with 40 certified law enforcement officers in rural and urban settings in multiple jurisdictions across Arizona and Nebraska. In addition to these interviews, she’ll collect policies, procedures, training materials and other relevant documents from individual jurisdictions and include them in her analysis.

“Empirical research that explores the macro-level influences that shape law enforcement officer’s attitudes and beliefs about their work, and victims, is critical to understanding the ways in which secondary harms continue to be perpetrated upon victims of serious violent crime,” she said. “Existing knowledge gaps pose challenges for effecting the systems level changes that may be necessary to creating an environment where victims are not further harmed by their engagement with the criminal-legal system.”

Sattler was awarded a National Institute of Justice Graduate Research Fellowship under the program for the Social and Behavioral Sciences. This funding supports doctoral students for research that improves knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science. Sattler anticipates that she will complete her dissertation over the course of the fellowship.

Nancy Jo Kepple, assistant professor of social welfare, is the chair of Sattler’s committee, and Steven Maynard-Moody, professor of public affairs & administration, will serve as Sattler’s methodologist and substantive expert.

"Patricia Sattler has spent her career as a social worker within criminal justice settings. These experiences allow her to bring a unique perspective to her research that integrates insights from practice into rigorous research projects,” Kepple said. “This work is important because it helps to strengthen interprofessional collaborations between law enforcement and social work through valuing both professions. Her work has the great potential of making gains towards minimizing secondary harms to victims through multilevel change."

This study builds on a smaller, qualitative pilot study that Sattler conducted in the first year of her doctoral program, and she sees it as the launchpad for a follow-up qualitative study with crime victims and a larger-scale quantitative study with the police that she plans to start after her intended graduation in May 2021.

Sattler applied for the fellowship with support from the Institute for Policy & Social Research and the KU Center for Research, and IPSR will manage the award.

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