In 2017, 4.1 million people were victims of residential burglary, nearly 1.3 times more than experienced all types of violent crime combined. Victims of burglary suffer both financial losses and an array of psychological harms, including anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and fear for their safety.
Although victims rely on police to recover stolen property, apprehend the offender, and help restore a sense of safety, most residential burglaries go unsolved. This can leave victims feeling dissatisfied with and less trusting of the police. Victims are then less likely to report future crimes or assist police with investigations. On top of this, support services for victims of burglary are especially limited. Despite the negative consequences of burglary victimization, fewer than 5% of burglary victims receive any type of victim assistance.
RTI and partners are working to address these issues related to negative criminal justice experiences and a lack of access to victim services for burglary victims. In collaboration with the Minnesota Alliance on Crime and the Identity Theft Resource Center and with funding from the Office for Victims of Crime, we are developing and implementing an innovative technology to improve the ability of law enforcement to respond to the needs of victims of burglary and refer them to community-based support and services. Specifically, we are building upon the customer service models used by a variety of public and private companies to create an Enhanced Virtual Victim Assistant (EVVA) chatbot that a victim can go to for answers to specific, standard questions related to their victimization experience and to get referrals for national and local organizations that can provide additional resources and assistance. EVVA will improve the ability of law enforcement to respond to the needs of victims of burglary and refer them to community-based support and services without an additional drain on limited resources.
The Use of Chatbots: A New Opportunity for Law Enforcement
Chatbots like EVVA are software applications that build on natural language processing to simulate a written or verbal interaction with a person. These conversational agents are used to enhance customer services across a wide range of sectors, from commercial/retail, to banking, healthcare, and government. They have the potential to save substantial time and resources by providing customers in need of basic support and services with immediate answers without having to wait for an available human representative.
Although chatbots are being used by some court systems to improve customer service, their use by law enforcement agencies to this point is largely nonexistent. EVVA is a unique tool that will help agencies better respond to victim needs while simultaneously reducing the time that department personnel spend addressing standard questions.
Developing and Improving EVVA through Pilot Testing
RTI is undertaking an extensive development process with EVVA. EVVA will undergo internal and external usability testing, including with recent burglary victims. It will then be pilot tested in several agencies. With the pilot test, EVVA will go live on the partner agencies’ websites and responding officers will provide burglary victims with information about how to access and use EVVA. RTI will review the transcripts of conversations for trouble-shooting and continual improvement. Following the pilot test, EVVA will be finalized and packaged in a way that can be easily adopted by other law enforcement agencies.
The Benefits of Enhancing the Law Enforcement Response to Burglary
Evidence suggests that, regardless of case outcome, police can improve victims’ perceptions of, confidence in, and satisfaction with police through their communication and through keeping victims apprised of the investigation. Research finds that this is particularly true in the case of burglary, with burglary victims being more likely than victims of violence to base their perceptions of police on the interaction rather than the outcome of the investigation . Additionally, law enforcement plays a critical role in identifying victims’ needs and connecting them with victim service providers. One of the strongest predictors of whether victims get assistance is being told about available services by police (Skogan, 1990).
EVVA will help agencies improve on both fronts. It is an innovative technological solution that will enhance the law enforcement response to burglary victims and, in turn, improve victims’ perceptions of police and the likelihood that they get necessary support and services. RTI is pleased to be at the forefront of bringing this solution to the law enforcement community. Learn more about RTI’s work with law enforcement, communities and victims.