Dina Mitchel conducted a survey of professionals and survivors which provided valuable feedback.
The first of the two surveys was for field experts. Professionals queried were police officers, medical examiner investigators, victim witness advocates, prosecutors and police chaplains. Their survey consisted of six questions and an area for general comments. The respondents were asked to give their profession, and then asked to rate their level of satisfaction with Survivor Resources from very negative to very positive. Respondents were also asked to rate their perception of the impact of Survivor Resources, from very weak to very strong.
The survey for survivors consisted of eight questions and an area for general comments. Survivors were asked from whom they received services, and then were presented with statements concerning the quality of the service. Respondents could rate their agreement with each statement using five terms ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. For six of the questions, respondents were also asked for comments or to give examples.
A total of 23 surveys were returned. Nine from police officers, five from victim witness advocates, six from police chaplains, two from judges, and one from a medical examiner’s investigator, who incidentally worked as a homicide investigator when Survivor Resources began.
The professionals’ level of satisfaction with Survivor Resources was overwhelmingly positive. Twenty-two responses were very positive; one response was somewhat positive. Likewise, the level of impact of the Survivor Resources also rated extremely high. Twenty-one respondents perceived the impact as very strong, while two respondents saw the impact as somewhat strong.
Each professional working with the survivors sees a different area in which the services provided by Survivor Resources make a difference. When asked what impact on survivors the professionals have observed, the widespread influence of the program is apparent. Most comments were in relation to improved communication, positive relationships with family members and follow-through.
Positive relationships with family members are not only helpful and healing to the families, it can make the difference in solving the case.
Sergeant Neil Nelson wrote, “Often times Survivor Resources’ involvement has been a key element in maintaining a positive relationship between police and family members of murder victims. These relationships are essential to solving crimes within communities and groups that are reluctant to cooperate with police.”
Police Chaplain Matthew Chikeles supports his positive feelings of the program providing continued follow-through by explaining, “I am always secure in my position and responsibilities because I know Survivor Resources is there to support and aid not only me, but the victims I encounter. When I do follow up, I have never known Survivor Resources not to have been there, too. When talking with those I give assurance to, they always tell me how Survivor Resources was there for them, too. I believe the Saint Paul Police Department chaplains can give the best care because they work with Survivor Resources.”
A victim witness advocate sees improved communication as helping to prepare people for what they may encounter each step of the way. “When I meet with people who have been involved with Margaret McAbee, they are very open to my services. They are also somewhat prepared for the court system. They all say wonderful things about Margaret and the help she has given them.”
When asked what difference Survivor Resources has made in their role, service or employment, the professionals discussed improved services provided to families, better communication and less stress on the job.
Due to the services provided by Survivor Resources, Mary Biermaier, director of Victim Witness Division wrote, “We worry less about survivors who are in situations where there is no suspect and the case may never get charged, or the charges are delayed due to further police investigation.”
Frank Thell, a police chaplain, wrote, “Because of the role of Survivor Resources, my assistance is greatly enhanced and the families are given some hope. Without the program, families find themselves lost after the initial contact by police and police chaplains.”
One police officer said, “Future contacts with the families are less strained,.” Another wrote that improved communication has given families, “a better understanding of our role as investigators.” Many respondents spoke to how different functions provided by Survivor Resources cut down on the stress level for them at work. For a chaplain who has worked with several cases in which Survivor Resources was involved, knowing that there is someone to continue working with the families, “has provided me with a sense of peace.” A victim witness advocate and a police officer both stated, “It (Survivor Resources) has made my job a lot easier.”
Retired Commander of Homicide Joseph Corcoran, who was instrumental in allowing Survivor Resources to become such a welcome presence at the Saint Paul Police Station, wrote that the difference Survivor Resources has made has been, “Spectacular. Survivor Resources has lessened the stress that law enforcement personnel experience as they handle homicide and suicide cases. Law enforcement has gained more recognition from the survivors and the community when they solve theses cases.”
He also feels that, “Lastly and most importantly, the person who committed the crime is forced to pay a higher price for their actions. Courts now recognize the impact these crimes have on survivors, and are willing to listen to how it has affected them and the victim’s circle of friends.”
Likewise, Judge Kathleen Gearin feels that being reminded of the families behind the victims is important in her profession. She took a fellow judge with her to a Survivor Resources memorial service at which she spoke. She stated that her colleague was so moved that he will never be the same, nor will he approach his work in the same way.
The last section of the survey asked for suggestions for the future of the project and for any general comments. Eleven respondents made suggestions for keeping the program, securing additional funding, or for expanding the program to include more staff. It was also suggested that survivors of older cases, before the inception of Survivor Resources, should be contacted and helped.
Ann Hunter, victim witness advocate, while seeing the program as a “wonderful, welcome change,” suggested that “discussion of any court procedures be kept in very general terms or referred to the county attorney’s office” to prohibit any misunderstanding on the part of the families. One respondent asked for additional training, and one police chaplain asked to know how families were doing once they were handed off to Survivor Resources. The annual Service of Remembrance was called a “powerful event” and the grief groups run by Survivor Resources were said to, “do an excellent job of allowing victims to speak out their emotions, feelings, and thoughts.”
Commander Joseph Corcoran wrote, “In closing, I would just like to say that after serving in law enforcement for 34 years, I will always remember Survivor Resources as the high point in my career.”
Four survivors responded to the survey by mail, while fifteen responded verbally on the telephone. To preserve their privacy, I have quoted most survivors anonymously.
Ten survivors received services from both the police department and the police chaplain, while all received services from Survivor Resources Director Margaret McAbee.
All survivors who had attended the grief support group strongly agreed that the groups were helpful. One survivor said of her group experience, “The support group meetings have helped put some sanity in the insane happening. My shattered family would not be as healed as it is without the group’s help. It means so very much to join together with others that honestly understand what it means to experience a homicide.” Another added, “It was the only time we could talk to people who have gone through what we were going through.”
When asked if their grief was taken seriously, 17 survivors strongly agreed with the statement, and two agreed. From one survivor’s point of view, “the police and Survivor Resources have been very respectful and validating.” A second responded, “Margaret McAbee visited my family almost immediately after the murder and she has been a continual source of ongoing support that I feel I could call upon whenever, even many years hence.”
All survivors again strongly agreed that the information received about grief and loss related directly to their loss. Noting that each person grieves on his/her own time frame, one survivor wrote, “All of the information we received has helped to validate my experience. Not always at the time I received it, but later as I’ve experienced the many layers of this tragedy.”
The fifth question was regarding community resources to help the survivors deal with their grief and loss. Six respondents received suggestions for resources beyond Survivor Resources. The suggestions included Parents of Murdered Children, individual counselors and a contact person in Washington, D.C. Four survivors strongly agreed that the community resources suggested were helpful; two agreed with the statement. Three spoke of help from Crime Victim’s Reparations, revealing how helpful it had been to have the funeral expenses reimbursed.
A question regarding their healing process found that all survivors strongly agreed with the statement, “The services I received helped me in my healing process.” No comments were asked for on this question.
The last question asked of the survivors was, “I felt strengthened by the contacts I had with the following persons.” The responses were tremendously positive. One survivor related, “Margaret McAbee has been simply wonderful. It is very helpful that the project is headed by people like her that have been through the grieving process for a major life trauma.”
Another survivor wrote, “All of the survivors in my Survivor Resources (grief) group have been instrumental in having my feelings validated and having a safe place to talk. The excellent efforts and compassion I’ve received from the homicide officers and from Margaret McAbee and her volunteer facilitators have been outstanding. The victim’s advocate at the Ramsey County Attorney’s office has also been very helpful and respectful. I feel that my needs as a homicide survivor have been aggressively attended. I am grateful for all the above people/programs.”
Again and again, survivors praised the work accomplished by Survivor Resources. It was overwhelming to hear of the wonderful works done by such a small organization and what an amazing impact it has had on the lives of so many. I feel compelled to assure readers that the surveys returned and comments taken verbally were honestly as good as reported. It has been a pleasure to hear of all the good that has been given to the Saint Paul community.
One final comment – which was echoed time and time again in many ways – survivor Kristin Horner passionately wrote, “Please ensure that there is always adequate funding for such victim programs, and encourage other counties/states to have similar programs. It is an extremely wise government investment to help victim families re-establish healthy lives after a tragedy. It is crucial in helping people to connect again in a positive way, and to foster respect and trust in government and authority rather than feelings of alienation, anger, and frustration at ineffective government institutions.”