A working partnership between police, prosecutors, human service and other agencies greatly enhances the effectiveness of efforts to cope with personal and community crisis, as well as antisocial and criminal behavior, according to Commissioner John T. Nielsen, Utah Department of Public Safety.
"A community in crisis or a person in crisis is a frightening thing," Nielsen said during the Utah Conference on Human Services last week. "It calls for decisive and dynamic leadership. None of us have the ultimate answer. It's going to be in a combined force . . . that we'll be much better able to bring situations to a successful conclusion."Using three examples - a rape case he prosecuted in the late '70s, the January 1987 air disaster over Kearns and the Singer-Swapp stand-off last January - Nielsen outlined the interaction between agencies in each situation.
The concept, for him, began when he was prosecuting a rape case. He had been frustrated because "I didn't have enough time to prepare a witness for the rigors of the court process. The victim was embarrassed, confused about what was happening to her, and angry with the system, too."
The prosecution got a conviction, but Nielsen found that the victim often walked away after a trial feeling she'd been brutalized.
At that time, two women working on social work master's degrees told him about a program they wanted to try: one to help victims of crimes be better witnesses and that would follow through to help "make them whole again if we could."
"It was a marked difference from other cases," Nielsen said. "I had resources to turn to, for once. And I realized that we simply as prosecutors could not do this job alone."
The trial program has been kept alive by a "unique partnership between the police, prosecutors and human service people," he said. "The police realized this cooperation was something that had been missing from the war on crime." Today, a Victim Witness Counseling Unit in the police department is used with rape and abuse victims.
Eight years later, when a higher court ordered a retrial, the victim was willing to testify again because of support she said she'd received from the prosecutor's office.
Cooperation, he said, also helps counter "turf disputes."
When the Skywest plane crashed with a private plane in Kearns, police from all local jurisdictions, as well as media, health officials, medical examiners, federal transportation and airline officials and church leaders worked well together.
"Everyone wanted to help," he said. "That's our natural inclination. The trick is to master all those resources to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem."
In the Singer-Swapp confrontation, there were four on-site commanders from separate law enforcement agencies, he said, and it "worked extremely well."