• Read how the transformation in sexual crimes victim support in Schleswig-Holstein police was carried out through:
  • Innovative victim interview support: To transform, the team working with sexual violence victims were emphasising victim-centric workflows, implemented audio-visual recorded interviews to minimise trauma, and have been pioneering specialised training for officers handling sexual crimes.
  • Technology and legal transformation: A key part of the transformation was the implementation of court-proof interview tools, alignment with legal changes like §58a StPO, and future vision for centralised data management to ensure more efficient and fair judicial procedures.
  • Leading example for Germany: Schleswig-Holstein’s combination of dedicated civil servants, innovative technology, and legal compliance sets a benchmark for victim protection and has the potential to influence the entire German judicial system in supporting victims of sexual offenses.

Their primary objective?

To ensure that the entire process, from initial police involvement to the final decision of the judge, remained centered on the victims. They sought to improve the collection of evidence, streamline the process and eliminate the technological challenges.

What they achieved in Schleswig-Holstein was nothing short of revolutionary. It all began over 25 years ago with the audio-documented investigative interview. Today such interviews are recorded audio-visually everywhere. They devised an approach built on international best practices that both protected victims and improved evidence collection through interviewing methodology. This approach has proven itself and can serve as an example for other police forces in the Federal Republic of Germany to improve the care of victims during the interviewing process.

“The first step to a good interview is to record it. We were looking for a company that could help us with that. A contact recommended Davidhorn (previous Indico Systems) in 2012 and it turned out to be a great fit for us. We managed to push our investigation operations to another level. We’ve worked with them ever since.”
Uwe Keller
ex-Police Schleswig-Holstein

Central to this new approach was a major shift in interviewing techniques. Recording interviews and employing investigative interviewing methodologies have been game-changers, reducing the number of times victims have to recount their trauma.

Their pursuit of technological solutions led the police of Schleswig-Holstein to Davidhorn in 2010. The challenge? Finding a technical way of documenting court-proof interviews in order to prevent multiple interviews by the police.

This transformation wasn’t initially triggered by a change in law or official directive. Instead, it was the result of individuals within the police force driven by passion, determination, and a desire to prioritise the victim’s perspective. Inspired by the Danish police and their practices, they wanted to bring the same standards to Schleswig-Holstein, especially in handling sexual crimes. The goal? Modify the workflows to give investigations the most effective start. A good initial interview is the key to subsequent investigations and measures.

The collaboration with Davidhorn started with just three test recording sets. This number has increased over the years and is now available for all sex crime teams in the 26 criminal police departments in Schleswig-Holstein.

A legal change in 2019, affecting interviewing protocols for suspected juveniles and suspects in homicide cases, led to expanding of the system and the acquisition of more interview kits. Now, Schleswig-Holstein boasts around 60 of these tools. For the team that primarily works with sexual crimes, portable solutions have proven invaluable.

However, the Schleswig-Holstein police envisions the future with a centralized server solution that could eliminate the need to send interview CDs across the country – a process that is both time-consuming and prone to errors. These tech solutions could save time and human resources in the future by offering an automatic transcription function “Speech to Text” and AI-supported summaries of interviews.

Shaping the new paradigm: victim-centric workflows

The new approach is anchored in a pivotal first step: conducting a well-documented interview. The intent? To make a video interview available to those involved in the process, which saves the victim from having to be interviewed again in court so that they don’t have to relive the trauma. A practice that since 2019 has been a legal requirement in Germany.

The practice proved that such an interview, which avoids a main hearing, makes sense at the end of the police measures when all facts are determined and established. Recorded initial police interviews are therefore still being carried out.

In this respect, Schleswig-Holstein stands out, emerging as the only region in Germany that operates with such a degree of responsibility. With approximately 1200 interviews conducted annually, they’re far ahead of the curve when compared to all other federal states.

In addition to altering their interviewing practices, the team in Schleswig-Holstein has also compiled a handbook of best practices for investigative interviews involving victims of sexual crimes. This resource serves as an invaluable tool for all colleagues within the region who work with these types of cases.

This handbook has become something of an “internal law” within the police force, and its influence extends beyond Schleswig-Holstein. In the past, it was shared with the police in Slovenia, Hamburg, Berlin/Brandenburg and Lower Saxony, among others.

The task force driving these best practices for dealing with victims of sexual crimes consists of just seven people: an officer from the police academy, two female prosecutors, three female investigators, and a press secretary who has previously worked with sex crime cases. They are the “guardians” of these standards across all of Schleswig-Holstein.

Conscious and sensitive treatment of victims is at the core of their mission, emphasizing the importance of recording interviews as early as possible in the process. This prompt action, when someone comes to the police to report a sexual crime, minimizes the need for the victim to repeatedly relive their trauma by retelling their experiences.

Shaping the new paradigm: victim-pioneering practices: Schleswig-Holstein’s progressive approach

Schleswig-Holstein has truly pioneered the shift towards this new mindset. The game-changer was planning a coordinated effort with all litigants to introduce recorded interviews into trials. Without their consent, the endeavor wouldn’t have stood a chance. It’s been a journey hand in hand with attorneys, prosecutors and judges, fostering an environment in which they too saw the benefits of this more compassionate approach.

Specifically in the domain of sexual crimes, the region employs specially trained officers. Out of 26 departments in Schleswig-Holstein, around 85 officers have specialized training in sexual crimes. The majority of these officers devote their work exclusively to such cases.

Even before 2019, judges in Schleswig-Holstein began incorporating recorded interviews into their proceedings, even without a legal obligation to do so. However, since 2019, it’s become a legal requirement.

Notably, the opening of the first Childhood-House” in Flensburg (German only) now follows the efforts to protect the Schleswig-Holstein victims and vulnerable witnesses. This institution, inspired by the Swedish “Barnahus” project, serves as a benchmark for the rest of the country. Ambitious plans are afoot to expand and introduce more of suchcenters in Itzehoe, Lübeck, and Kiel.

Envisioning change: towards unified and secure data sovereignty

The German judicial system, consisting of the police, public prosecutors, lawyers and courts, works a little differently than in other countries. One significant factor is the question of who retains ownership of the case documents. In the German context, a server solution, where data is stored locally in the area of responsibility of the public prosecutor’s office seems to be ideal. This ensures complete data sovereignty for interviewing and metadata.

In Germany, there’s a legal framework called the “Criminal Procedure Code” (StPO), which regulates how the police, public prosecutors, lawyers and judges should work together. A newly introduced paragraph, §58a StPO, specifically addresses the recording of investigative interviews. Davidhorn’s solutions fully respect these legal requirements and provide easy-to-use tools that ensure an accurate representation of events.

Roughly 15-20 years ago, implementing these changes was not an easy task. But now, with the invaluable lessons learned from previous efforts, the pace of change is accelerating. The simplification of data management will make the workflow simpler and safer for both institutions and victims.

Davidhorn: a valuable ally in revolutionising police work

From the lens of a victim, the Schleswig-Holstein police endeavored to forge better evidence and develop a superior process. Technological hurdles were of course part of the equation but were managed brilliantly by the parties involved. Together with Davidhorn they had to consider what specific requirements needed to be met and how the best tools could be used to address those requirements.

Davidhorn was a key partner in this process. The collaboration started with just three test sets and has expanded over time to include all sexual crime teams in Schleswig-Holstein. Their solutions help to ensure that victims of sexual offenses are treated appropriately and with care.

Still, it’s crucial to remember that even the most advanced technology can only play a supportive role in investigative interviews. The key lies in adopting the right mindset, process, and procedures. Luckily, Davidhorn also provides the appropriate solutions in this regard, including a training program to effectively learn and apply these parameters. Police officers are the first point of contact, but if they’re unsure how to react, no progress can be made. They need to know how to respond effectively and appropriately – another area where Davidhorn’s expertise comes into play.

The combination of dedicated civil servants, specialized prosecutors and attorneys, cooperative judges and innovative technological solutions has certainly put Schleswig-Holstein at the forefront of victim protection in Germany. This progressive approach has the potential to be adapted and further developed throughout Germany in order to improve support for victims of sexual offenses and to make the judicial system more transparent and fairer overall.

Written by: Marta Hopfer-Gilles 

(Chat GPT was used while creating this blog)