Correction: An earlier version of this story included the wrong number of people who had called the hotline.
District officials announced on Wednesday a new hotline for victims of city crimes so they can quickly reach a variety of services offering support, financial aid and information about court cases.
With the D.C. Victim Hotline, the District will become one of the few jurisdictions with a one-stop number for people affected by any crime, whether it’s a mugging or a homicide. The number is not meant to summon emergency responders, but it can be used for services needed in the immediate aftermath of a crime or much later.
Operators with the National Center for Victims of Crime will direct callers to appropriate services, such as counseling or financial aid, whether it be a woman fleeing an abusive partner or a family facing eviction because the primary caretaker was fatally shot.
The District and other cities have hotline numbers directed at specific crimes, whether for domestic abuse, sexual assault or human trafficking. Victims of other types of crimes, though, often were left on their own to navigate through city and federal agencies and help groups to find what they needed.
Now, help is available to anyone who dials a single number — 844-4HELPDC (844-443-5732).
“It’s a single point of entry for any type of victim from any part of the District of Columbia,” said Michelle M. Garcia, director of the D.C. Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. “There wasn’t necessarily a robust place for people to turn to if they were victims of a burglary or the victims of an attempted homicide.”
Questions can be answered through email, text messages and phone calls. Garcia said callers can be connected to “immediate crisis intervention” or be advised on receiving the help they need, whether it’s finding a bed for the night for a burglary victim, emergency money for a person who was just robbed or help interpreting court documents.
Agencies including the D.C. police and the U.S. attorney’s office offer assistance to crime victims, but people often complain about difficulty contacting the right office. Even when they are connected, people can face a dizzying array of forms and questions. The hotline is meant to alleviate such stress. “This number is so the victims don’t have to go through all that,” Garcia said.
Crime in the District is down overall from a peak during the crack epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But homicides soared 54 percent from 2014 to 2015 — from 105 to 162 — unnerving residents and prompting police to redirect patrols and focus on repeat violent offenders. This year, homicides are about on par with last year’s pace, while robberies have jumped 23 percent compared with this time last year. Burglaries and car thefts are down.
A Washington Post poll taken in November revealed that residents said crime had become the biggest problem in the District, overtaking issues such as the economy and public schools for the first time in a decade.
Victoria Hougham, director of victim services at the National Center for Victims of Crime, said its advocacy group has trained workers in all of the services offered by the District and other agencies. The hotline is open 24 hours a day. She said California and New York City have similar hotlines, but she said the District’s is more comprehensive.
“We can get people to the right resources,” Hougham said. “We try to stay on top of everything that is happening in the District. Crime victims could look up this information for themselves, but we don’t want them to have to do that. We can do it for them.”
The hotline has been open since October but was not publicly advertised until this week. So far, Hougham said, operators have fielded a wide range of calls, many from victims of domestic violence. Call takers have directed women through what they can expect by obtaining a protective order against a spouse or boyfriend and have helped a person who lost the family’s primary caregiver to homicide. Some victims call for help more than a year after the crime.
“We help people take the next step,” Hougham said.