My company’s road to victim safety and empowerment
I really don’t have to think about the tragic, unspeakable incidents that wound up shaping my life. They are woven into the fabric of who I am, and they are as much a part of me as the color of my eyes or the prints on my fingertips. Though each year during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, I take some time to reflect on the past year at Appriss, the company I founded over 23 years ago. Did we accomplish what we said we would accomplish? Did we move forward as a company? Did we reach more victims in more places? Did we help them feel safer, more empowered? Did we do right by her?
“Her” is Mary Byron. She is the reason for Appriss, and the reason why millions of crime victims across the United States are safe.
Even after two decades, the series of events that led to Mary’s untimely death never fail to shock me. Mary was a local Louisville woman with a bright future, good friends, and a loving family. Mary had been brutally raped and assaulted by a former boyfriend, who was subsequently arrested and incarcerated for these acts. Two weeks later, unbeknownst to Mary and her family, her assaulter posted bond and was freed. On the evening of December 6, 1993, Mary sat in her car as it warmed up after leaving her job at a popular Louisville mall. Her assaulter approached from the driver’s side and fired seven bullets into her head and chest at point blank range, killing her.
It was Mary’s 21st birthday.
There was an immediate outcry in our devastated community—Mary’s community, my community. How could this have happened? In response, the county requested bids to develop a system that would notify crime victims electronically when their offenders were released from custody.
At the time, I was in my late twenties and had two small daughters of my own. Watching Mary’s heartbroken parents on the news motivated me to act. A colleague of mine, Yung Nguyen, shared my passion, and we committed ourselves to developing a technological solution to address this dangerous gap in our system. And because necessity is truly the mother of invention, we created a company through which we were able to pursue and win the procurement that the county had issued. We went on to build the nation’s first automated victim notification system. Exactly one year after Mary’s death, in a single county in Kentucky, we proudly launched VINE — Victim Information and Notification Everyday. Today, VINE spans 48 states and makes over 43 million notifications each year.
Appriss is a very different company today. We are larger, more sophisticated. We have expanded our services, providing a variety of solutions used to support law enforcement investigations, bolster program integrity in state entitlement offices, and mitigate insider risk in private enterprise. We identify crime across the retail sector, we track drug diversion, and we are playing a significant role in combating the opioid epidemic that is wreaking havoc across our country. Our mission, “Knowledge for Good,” encompasses all that we do, but it traces its roots back to the reason for Appriss’ founding—to equip victims with knowledge and tools that they need to stay safe. It traces its roots back to her.
Throughout our journey, we have always been cognizant that Appriss continues to support victims of crime and others in need within our local community and beyond. Whether it’s our employees volunteering with local outreach groups or the company as a whole supporting various philanthropic efforts, these initiatives are critical in maintaining our culture here at Appriss. Appriss attracts a certain kind—and I have seen this since our start. We attract a genuine kind. A bright kind. An impassioned kind. And let me tell you—that’s a great mix.
In 2000, we worked with Mary Byron’s parents and other victim advocates to establish the Mary Byron Project (MBP), a public non-profit that is focused on addressing the root causes of domestic violence. MBP seeks out ideas that extend beyond crisis management and funds new, innovative solutions. Led by Executive Director, Marcia Roth, they are a nationally recognized thought leader in the field of domestic violence. Over the last 18 years, Marcia has led MBP in raising and awarding over $1 million to organizations that demonstrate innovative, proven solutions.
As an established expert in the field of victim services, and as someone who has seen power and potential in VINE since its birth, when Marcia Roth tells me that VINE has done more for victim safety in the last 25 years than any other service—I can only believe her.
Looking to the Future: Reaching More Victims with Enhanced VINE
While reflection and evaluation are both absolutely necessary, it is so energizing to then look towards the future. I am so thrilled with the direction that VINE is taking, and the information and empowerment this service is bringing to victims.
The theme of this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is “Expand the Circle: Reach all Victims.” This could not be a more timely tie-in to what has been the “theme” here at Appriss and within VINE over the past year…
After years of research, testing, and planning, in May 2017 we launched our Enhanced VINE service. With the ever-increasing prominence of mobile devices, social media, and web services, VINE arrived at a critical juncture. Coupled with the continued maturation of the victim services field and the roadmap for its future laid out by the Office of Victims of Crime in its Vision 21 report, we knew that an entirely new design paradigm was necessary to reach crime victims and provide access to critical services in the digital age.
We designed Enhanced VINE to give crime victims complete control and a choice to identify and work collaboratively with victim service providers and allied professionals. It goes beyond notifications and facilitates a greater degree of information sharing between public servants, victims, and service providers. Enhanced VINE encompasses a suite of new and augmented features, incorporating self-service functionality and providing the end-user the ability to select preferred pathways of communication. Enhanced VINE provides access to unified resources that, today, are not centrally located—making it difficult for victims to find and utilize.
Over the last 10 months, our hard-working, talented teams have successfully launched Enhanced VINE in four states, with a full slate of states ready to “go live” in 2018 and beyond.
Nothing can heal the pain eternally endured by Mary’s family and community. But, we will continue to honor her memory by doing everything that we can to equip victims with the information they need to stay safe. We see her in each one of them.
All of these efforts, all of these enhancements—they bring us back to our mission. Our mission to notify, our mission to protect, our mission to give crime victims a sense of safety that they so desperately deserve.
Our mission of Knowledge for Good.