Crime Stoppers Victim Advocacy
My mantra has always been Crime Victims are the only unwilling participants in the criminal justice system. Everyone else choses their roles: from law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, parole, probation and most of all the defendants. From my perspective, the very least government can do is to ensure victims rights are protected and that rebuilding their lives is on equal footing as the rights of the perpetrator. Defendants rights and rightfully so are protected and codified in the United States Constitution. Victims rights to date remain a mere courtesy with little teeth to ensure enforcement and practically no ramifications if victims are not apprised of their rights. Hence the crux of the problem.
In June 2018, Crime Stoppers of Houston became the first of its kind nationally to enact a victim services and advocacy program. One of our main objectives is to ensure victims and survivors have a voice in our criminal justice system. I routinely meet with victims and their families to discuss how Crime Stoppers can help bring attention to their case, attend trials and court proceedings and how to empower them to rebuild their lives. In plain words, I am going to do whatever it takes to make our justice system work on behalf of victims of crime.
One of the unique services our program offers that no one else does is to regularly meet with the parole board along with victims to assist in requesting the offender remain in prison. In addition, our organization conducts numerous victim related events throughout the year, including an event for National Day of Remembrance and our Annual Holiday Memorial Tree Ceremony to bring attention to the issues surviving family members of homicide have to endure. Due to COVID-19, I am hoping to reschedule our National Day of Remembrance event to sometime in November 2020. Our organization also coordinates other events for Domestic Violence and Missing Persons.
In Harris County we are fortunate to have over 25 different victim service related organizations to help combat and assist victims of child abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence, drunk driving, missing persons, sexual assault and homicide victims. Crime Stoppers is proud and honored to partner with all the agencies that assist victims of crime. Crime Stoppers hosts a quarterly meeting of law enforcement victim advocates to ensure everyone is on top of the issues currently facing crime victims.
At Crime Stoppers, we believe that instead of yelling and screaming about the injustices in our criminal justice it is more prudent to seek solutions and remedies via legislation to enhance public safety and victims’ rights. In the last Legislative session, I pursued a statute that became the first of its kind in the country titled ‘The Sir Romeo Law’. The new law enacted in September 2019; allows families whose children were the victims of attempted murder to apply for relocation expenses from the State’s Crime Victims Compensation Fund administered by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. I named the new law after 4-year-old Sir Romeo Milan who was the victim of random gun violence while watching TV with his Grandmother.
This upcoming Legislative session I will be seeking the following Bills to be enacted into law:
- Enhanced penalties for ‘Celebratory Gunfire’ offenders
- Criminal charges for offenders/defendants who knowingly tamper/remove/destroy their ankle monitor
- Allow the Parole Board discretion on all cases upon denying parole not to review again from 1-5 years. For example, if there is not a deadly weapon finding on the judgement by statute the parole board must review offenders annually when parole eligible.
I would be remiss not to discuss one of the most pressing issues plaguing Harris County: The ramifications of Felony Bond Reform. While Crime Stoppers supports Misdemeanor Bond Reform, we don’t support continually allowing career habitual offenders to repeatedly being granted bonds on multiple felony charges, including murder. To date, at least 61 people have been killed by defendants released on multiple felony bonds, bond forfeiture and or PR (Personal Recognizance) Bonds in Harris County since 2018. Nine of the 61 victims are a result of domestic violence. It is imperative we address this issue next legislative session to curtail what I call the ‘Bond Pandemic’
As the Director of Victim Services and Advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston, I firmly believe in the following adage: I can’t go back and change what happened to you and your family, but by advocating on your behalf to make positive changes in our criminal justice system to enhance victims’ rights you will leave lasting legacy.
Remember, what we do in life echoes in eternity and I fully embrace that mantra day in and day out. I am truly blessed and honored to be able to work on your behalf as a Victim Advocate and I am enormously grateful for the opportunity Crime Stoppers has bestowed upon me.
Andy Kahan Director of Victim Services
Posted byon 23 Sep 2020