Leading the Way for Victims

Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit
Detective Lee Poczak joined the Service 23 years ago because she wanted to make a difference.

It's something she's done throughout her career as an officer, but has most recently been providing assistance for countless victims of domestic violence.

Poczak, who heads the 41 Division Youth & Family Violence section, is an integral part of the Scarborough Family Justice Initiative (SFJI) that links domestic violence victims with a victim advocatewho help them navigate the complex social services and court system.

The initiative was launched in February 2013.

“Like most police officers, I joined this job because I wanted to help,” said Poczak, who was presented with aLeading the Path award at a ceremony at police headquarters on April 7 to mark National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. “Over the past 23 years, I have never seen nor have I been part of such a powerful and effective initiative that has such a positive impact on a number of levels.”

Funded by the federal government and operated by Victims Services Toronto (VST) in collaboration with Toronto Police, the two-year pilot provides a more victim-focused and victim-friendly approach to criminal justice and social services intervention.

The centre ensures victims are provided with an advocate for support, counselling, case management, case co-ordination and consistent and timely access to information about the criminal justice process.

“Knowing that support is in place for victims enables police investigators to focus on conducting a thorough criminal investigation and presenting a comprehensive case for trial,” Poczak added. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be involved in such a truly valuable initiative and I hope that it will be expanded to the rest of the Service so all victims of domestic violence in our city can benefit from such a worthwhile program.”

The Leading the Path award recognizes individuals and organizations who demonstrate outstanding service in supporting victims and witnesses of crime.

VST, which provides 24/7 crisis, response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances, won the organizational award.

Supervised by crisis counsellors, volunteers provide crisis intervention and referrals, assist on the telephone or attend the scene as requested and also assist with fundraising and other community-outreach initiatives.

“Without question, today’s award winners have guided victims of domestic violence on that path, allowing them to leave abusive relationships and rebuild their lives,” said Inspector Dave Saunders, who was the Master of Ceremonies.

Bonnie Levine and Bobbie McMurrich – VST director of programs and SFJI co-chair respectively – accepted the award on behalf of VST.

“This award is meaningful to us because we know we are headed in the right direction,” said Levine.

Levine congratulated Poczak and added that the SFJI is a portable and flexible service which provides survivors of domestic violence with a personal system navigator.

“The project operates like a human GPS, guiding victims around barriers and helping them navigate through the complex mazes and intricate webs of systems and services,” she said, of Victim Advocates Rebecca Shaw and Rizwana Sabri.

“The project uses a multi-disciplinary team approach to co-ordinate a broad range of services on behalf of clients.”

Levine said a recent program evaluation report provides exciting conclusions.

“SFJI cases are resolved 30 per cent faster, victims of domestic violence were six times more likely to accept services when contacted by SFJI advocates versus a general referral to Victim Services, and victims supported by SFJI do not recant and are more likely to follow through with the criminal investigation,” she noted

The theme of this year’s National Victims of Crime Awareness Week isTaking Action.

In 2012, Toronto Police responded to almost over 20,000 domestic violence incidents.

“We have a responsibility, both within the Service and as a society, to ensure those individuals who are the victims of crime receive all of the support they require to recover from their victimization and trauma and also to get on with their lives,” said Chief Bill Blair. “Perhaps, there is no crime that has a greater impact on more families than domestic violence. It occurs far too frequently in our city and society.”

Toronto Police Services Board Chair Alok Mukherjee said this year’s theme is topical.

“It underscores that we must all do our part in a concrete way to prevent crime and to assist victims in our communities,” he said. “It’s crucial that we work together, taking action in partnership, to build healthy neighborhoods, to prevent crime and of course to support victims. Support for victims in our communities includes many parties such as criminal justice providers, representatives from all levels of government and, indeed, all members of the public. It is, after all, family and friends to whom victims of crime turn first for support and help.”

Led by Detective Brian Urkosky, of 43 Division, youth pipers from the recently formed Ryan Russell Memorial Pipe Band acknowledged victims of crime with a rendition ofAmazing Grace.

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