The State of New York's commitment to its innocent victims of violent crime began with the creation of the Crime Victims Compensation Board in 1966, now named the Office of Victim Services (OVS). The enabling legislation to establish this Board was in response to public outcry over a particularly horrendous crime in which a young man was murdered in a subway, leaving behind a widow and a fifteen-month old child. In fact, the New York State Crime Victims Board was one of the first independent state agencies established for crime victim compensation. As of June 22, 2010, the Crime Victims Board (CVB) became the Office of Victim Services (OVS) and has been providing compensation and other services to one of the most vulnerable populations in our State – innocent victims of crime – for more than 40 years.
Executive Law §622 created in the executive department the Office of Victim Services, hereinafter referred to as OVS. The OVS is headed by a Director, who shall be appointed by the governor for a term of three years. The Director shall coordinate and recommend policy relating to the provision of services to crime victims. The Director shall appoint staff and perform such other functions to ensure the efficient operation of the office within the amounts made available therefor by appropriation. Twenty-two powers and duties of the office are listed in Article 22 of the Executive Law.
In addition to the Director, OVS has a staff to aid in the fulfillment of its mission. Work of the agency is carried out from three locations; the primary office is located in Albany and two other offices are located in Brooklyn and Buffalo. Major units of the agency include: Investigations, Information Technology, Rehabilitation and Additional Medical Services, Administrative Services and Grants.
OVS has a three-tiered mission to:
- provide compensation to innocent victims of crime in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner;
- fund direct services to crime victims via a network of community-based programs; and
- advocate for the rights and benefits of all innocent victims of crime.
OVS provides substantial financial relief to victims of crime and their families by paying unreimbursed crime-related expenses, including but not limited to: medical and funeral expenses, loss of earnings or support, counseling costs, crime scene clean-up expenses, the cost to repair or replace items of essential personal property, reasonable and necessary court transportation expenses, assistance to crime victims acting as a good Samaritan, the cost of residing at or utilizing the services of a domestic violence shelter, and limited attorney fees.
The OVS Grants Unit is responsible for the administration of the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim and Witness Assistance funds which are awarded through a competitive process to organizations across the State serving crime victims. The OVS began its financial support of community-based organizations in 1981 funding 23 programs initially. Currently, OVS administers and processes nearly 200 contracts with Victim Assistance Programs across the State serving all 62 counties. Additionally, this Unit coordinates with other criminal justice agencies in the State on victim and witness service initiatives and priorities and serves as a liaison for the agency with various crime victim coalitions, federal authorities, the public and other interested parties.
Advocate for Innocent Victims Rights and Benefits
Over time the role and mission of the agency has expanded. In 1979, the Legislature required that the former CVB (renamed Office of Victim Services) advocate for victims’ rights, needs and interests in New York State. This advocacy role has resulted in OVS’s formulation of legislation, subsequently enacted, which not only has protected and extended the rights of crime victims but also expanded the services and assistance available to them. OVS also facilitates communication and coordination with other federal, state, and local governmental agencies and victim advocacy organizations in an effort to further the rights and interests of crime victims.
In addition, each of the OVS offices has an advocate, who is charged with assisting victims in completing claim applications and providing direct services to victims of crime and their families in the form of assistance in obtaining emergency awards, referrals to other agencies and services, and helping them through the criminal justice process.