The fact is, experiencing a crime as a victim or witness will always be an alarming, traumatic event. And once the disturbing occurrence of the actual crime has concluded, the police investigation has only just begun. Of course, the great thing about a police investigation is that incredible work is done to try to bring the criminal to justice; but the difficult part of a police investigation is that victims and witness are required to re-live the crime in their minds through interviews and testimonies, sometimes several times over.
As you can imagine, this can be a widely difficult experience that is often very challenging not only for the mental health of the victims and witnesses, but also for the accuracy of information that is recalled and relayed. Fortunately, research shows that that the environment in which the interviews are conducted can play a big difference in the emotional state of the victim and therefore, can also greatly help in them recalling and relaying information from their experience with more precision.
“Current research supports the creation of interview rooms and reception areas that take trauma-informed ascetic and design into consideration,” explains VPD Staff Sergeant Astrid Bonter of the Special Investigation Section.
“The space where an interview happens is integral to the quality of communication that will take place. When victims feel safe and at ease, they are more likely to be able to freely recall the event. In many cases, victims attend police interview rooms to speak about something they have never shared before. The experience will leave a lasting memory. A trauma-informed space ensures this memory is the best it can be. A peaceful space stands in stark contrast to memories they may be recalling.”
What this means, is that the physical interview space should feel non-institutional and instead include comfortable furnishings and the inclusion of multi-sensory installations such as art, blankets, and toys, as well as a connection to the outside world with living plants and natural art.
With all this in mind, the Vancouver Police Foundation was proud to recently fund the renovation and remodel of the VPD’s Special Investigation Section Child and Adult Interview rooms and reception area. Prior to this remodel, the space was decorated with standard office furniture, primarily black in colour, with donated art and toys. The environment lacked constructive consideration from a trauma-informed perspective.
“By changing from an office setting to purpose-built interview rooms, we’ve created an environment that is conducive to garnering the most out of our interview time with our traumatized victims,” says Sergeant Christopher Tang, formerly with the VPD’s Special Investigative Section, and now in the Operations Division.
“Forming a bond between the victim and interviewer requires trust and the confidence to share. The interview room environment is where the victims are immersed, it provides an initial perception of professionalism, and immediately relates how highly we prioritize our witnesses in. This conveys to the interviewee that we have a victim-centric approach and assists with our ability to build rapport.”
People who feel supported through a police investigation are more likely work with investigators and to participate in the criminal investigation. This participation is paramount to their attendance at court and in securing a conviction.
The new trauma-informed design of both VPD interview rooms and reception area feature new lighter, natural flooring, brighter walls and even a few ‘living walls’ by Nature Design. There is also floor plants, new artwork, a small kitchenette for snacks and beverages, and the new, comfortable and cozy furniture will be delivered any day now.
“It is a calm environment that is uncluttered,” adds Staff Sgt. Bonter. “The colour scheme and clean lines allow children to focus on their story and the questions being asked by our forensically trained child interviewer. All parties that are present are placed at greater ease during an inevitably stressful time.”
With more than 160 highly personal and criminally sensitive interviews happening in this space every year, the environmental improvements will certainly have a positive impact on, victim mental health and criminal prosecutions. The information and statements collected from victims and witnesses is paramount to investigative success and the VPD’s Special Investigation Section is now much better positioned to acquire crucial information while also keeping the mental wellness of the individuals a priority.
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.