Sept. 2, 2021
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced social distancing, shutdowns and hybrid work and learning, VCU Police officer Jasmine Merricks was concerned about how best to connect with sexual assault survivors.
So in March 2020, she started offering Zoom calls for survivors and others who were experiencing interpersonal violence while shut in at home, possibly with an abuser.
“Virtually we were not recording and you could log in without a phone number and without a picture or video,” Merricks said of the department’s first-time pivot to such meetings. “If they wanted to stay anonymous, we could still honor that but we were still having a personal interaction.”
Because of this and other survivor-centered efforts, Merricks is being recognized as one of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Top 40 Under 40. The annual awards honor 40 law enforcement professionals under age 40 from around the world who demonstrate leadership and exemplify commitment to their profession.
Merricks, who started with VCU Police in 2017 as a patrol officer, has served as the victim-witness coordinator since 2018. As part of the investigations team, she routinely works with survivors and victims of other crimes, and manages training for the department’s 20 victim-witness officers.
“It is well-understood that certain violent crimes, such as sexual assault, are underreported,” said Merricks’ supervisor, Sgt. Chelsey Cocke. “COVID-19 and the risk of exposure created an additional barrier for victims reporting to police. We had to adapt so that victims continued to report, and receive assistance, after experiencing such a trauma. Officer Merricks recognized the need for an effective solution and coordinated a tutorial video to assist survivors with the ‘You Have Options’ sexual assault reporting process.”
In 2020, Merricks also assisted with the creation of video training tutorials for VCU Police officers. One covered how to implement the Lethality Assessment Program, a system used to gauge levels of danger for victims of dating and domestic violence.
Her next major initiative is full implementation of the “One Love” campaign at VCU, which educates students about unhealthy behaviors in relationships.
“You can tell a lot about a police agency by how they treat victims,” said John Venuti, associate vice president for public safety and chief of police. “I am extremely proud of the survivor-centered approach that we’ve adopted. Serving others well has become part of our organizational DNA and officer Merricks’ exceptional work is a reflection of that.”
Merricks said the most rewarding part of her job is getting feedback from survivors, family members and witnesses who are also affected by crime.
“Receiving a call or text saying thank you motivates and reminds you that you are making a positive impact as a police officer,” she said.
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