November 14th, 2006 09:41 EST
FBI Counselors at Crime Scenes
When a troubled high school sophomore went on a shooting rampage on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota in early 2005, the FBI called up its specialists. Agents and analysts were quickly deployed to work with local law enforcement officials to secure the scene and figure out why a student killed seven people at school and two others at home before killing himself.
But it didn’t end there. Our Minneapolis division also called up a team of 10 victim specialists from neighboring offices to help victims and their families steer through the chaos that crime so often leaves in its wake. The specialists, all highly trained in crisis intervention, assisted agents interviewing victims, helped establish impromptu mental health sites, and worked alongside local officials to help shield victims from the inconvenient realities of funerals, transportation, lodging, and the media.
Now imagine an incident on a grander scale—like a terrorist attack or a large plane crash. To prepare, the FBI in 2004 formed the Victim Assistance Rapid Deployment Team, specially trained victim specialists to assist during mass-casualty incidents—the theory being that a rapid deployment of skilled mental health experts to a crime scene can do the most good by arriving early as an integral part of an investigation, not as an afterthought. In many cases, early intervention increases victim cooperation. And by providing for victims’ immediate needs, agents are freed up to focus on investigations.
“It’s important for us to get out in front,” said Kathryn Turman, program director for the FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance, which manages call-outs at the national level. The 20-member Rapid Deployment Team—actually five teams of four members each from field offices around the country—has been activated five times since its formation.
More recently, members of two teams deployed to Baton Rouge in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to support the Red Cross. There they worked 12-hour days for 12 days and directly or indirectly assisted about 20,000 people as a team.
In criminal cases, the role of victim specialists goes largely unnoticed. But once the criminals are rounded up and the reporters have dispersed, who do you think it falls on to make sure victims are fed, medically treated, counseled, and housed, and made aware of their rights and what lay ahead?
“The trauma’s not over when the newspaper goes into the trash can,” says Matthew Gallagher, a victim specialist in the FBI’s Boston field office who is also a member of the rapid deployment team. “These things can go on and on and on.” A social worker for non-profit agencies before joining the FBI three years ago, Gallagher said early intervention is essential. “The opportunity for having a positive impact on a victim is much greater.”
The FBI is the lead agency for victim assistance in mass casualty criminal events, according to the National Response Plan, which was issued in 2004 and updated this year to ensure resources are available in the event of a major incident.
When the Red Lake shooting occurred in March 2005, Paula Bosh got called up by the Minneapolis office from her post in Minot, North Dakota. She drove 6 hours to the remote area to help. Like many of her colleagues in the mental health field, she said she likes to be where she can do the most good. “This is like a dream-job-come-true for me,” she says.
At an annual training for Rapid Deployment Team members last summer in Virginia, Kathryn Turman explained what drives victim specialists on her team and elsewhere in the field to insert themselves into chaotic, emotionally wrenching situations. “If there’s a major incident somewhere, you’re going to go even if you have to get on a bicycle,” she said. “This is what we do.”
For more information, visit our newly updated Office of Victim Assistance webpage.