Editor's Note: This article is part of a larger series of stories that was published in the Dec. 16, 2010 edition of the Dorchester Reporter.
With every killing in Boston, Police officer Marivelle Crespo and Gina Patterson, a civilian, are as certain to deal with the tragedy as detectives from the BPD Homicide Squad. The two women are victims’ advocates within the homicide and since 2008 have assisted the families of about 315 victims who have been killed on city streets.
Although Patterson and Crespo are officially members of the homicide unit, Patterson said that their objective is not to actively involve themselves in investigations but rather to assure families that they are not alone in their grief. They are able to offer a wide range of private and public resources ranging from grief councilors and social workers as well as refer family members to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office’s recently expanded Victims Witness Assistance Program, which helps families pay for funeral services and lost wages.
“We encourage families to come forward with investigators,” Patterson said. “But at the same time we want to make sure families are receiving the help they need. No family is prepared for this type of loss.”
In November, the pair testified before the Boston City Council as part of a day-long hearing on what more the city needs to do to deal with Boston’s spike in homicides in 2010. Despite receiving calls from the families of victims killed as far back as the eighties, they have been able to keep pace with current homicides and make contact with families within the first 48 hours of a crime.
Violence has touched both advocates lives as they grew up in Boston, the loss of friends they said helps bridge the gap between themselves and the families they serve not only in the days and weeks following a homicide, but how that loss can change the trajectory of a family for years to come.
Crespo spent seven years working as a Boston patrol officer, an experience which she said helped prepare her for her position as an advocate by reinforcing the realities living on a street where is a daily concern.
Patterson began her victim advocacy work in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, guiding families through the myriad of private and state-funded resources available in the wake of their loss. Since taking the position in the Boston Police Department, Patterson has helped expand these aids to families as soon as the police are aware of a murder.
While police victim advocates only interact with a family following a homicide, the two said much of the counseling made available to relatives and friends still reeling from their loss is meant to ensure they do not turn to violence themselves. By creating an environment where families can express their anger without resorting to a gun, Crespo says her work helps end the cycle of revenge that leads her into yet another broken home.