Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations (CUSI)
In late 1991, the police chief's and town managers of Chittenden County along with the State's Attorney's office, began evaluating the viability of combining resources in several key areas. One aspect involved making a consolidated effort in the investigation of sexual crimes including suspected child sexual abuse. Given the complexities often related to sexual crimes, there was a demonstrated need for experienced personnel able to deal with the subject on a local basis, yet able to network and manage investigations throughout the county, maintaining a consistency of service to the county as a whole. Therefore the CUSI Unit was developed.
The Unit was also designed to recognize and meet the emotional needs for adult and child survivors of sexual abuse. Part of the plan included a comfortable environment for sexual abuse interviews; free of traditional police atmosphere and distractions. The Unit would be comprised of non-uniformed investigators and would have its own victim's advocate who would be able to focus on the immediate emotional needs, while stabilizing and assisting the entire family throughout the potential court process.
A series of meetings were held to seek input into the project, and a policy board was established consisting of local officials from the surrounding agencies and the Department of Child and Family Services. The Unit began operations in July of 1992, receiving a great deal of support from the surrounding towns within the county. Each police department was asked to make some form of contribution to the initiative, whether personnel, equipment, or financial support towards the operational expenses.
Building & Success
The University of Vermont provided a residential structure within Fort Ethan Allen as a home, and many local businesses donated furniture or supplies.
Since its' inception in 1992, CUSI has had unprecedented success in the investigation of sexual abuse. Its' five investigators and victim's advocate have handled well over one thousand investigations since opening and the trend is continuing to remain constant in regards to the abuse of children and adults. Its unique approach to gathering evidence has resulted in a number of confessions, and thus stronger cases that free the survivor from the anxiety of a court trial. The prosecutor's office has commented on the dramatic difference in the effort against sexual abuse before and after CUSI, and the Unit's structure is now being used as a prototype for proposed units in other areas of the state.
In addition to investigations, the Unit is currently engaged in training and developmental activities for other area professionals who encounter suspected victims of abuse. The Unit also conducts informational presentations along with the Department of Child and Family Services (DCF) at area schools to help lower the inhibitions of reporting. It is hoped that the unit can act as a catalyst to increase the reporting of suspect abuse through its educational activities.