Misunderstandings about roles and responsibilities and how they relate to service provision; impatience with timelines in conducting investigations; and reluctance to assist in providing access to suspected victims and witnesses are inherent challenges to expect in a multidisciplinary environment.
One task force member may have a completely inaccurate perception about how another member performs his or her job. This leads to misinterpretation of roles and responsibilities and also hinders members from drawing upon the expertise or skills that may be of great assistance to them. Turf battles over jurisdiction may occur among law enforcement agencies. Victim service providers routinely compete for limited financial resources and the opportunity to provide client services. Even the order of mention in a press release can cause a rift between task force members.
Multidisciplinary teams require a level of trust among members built through collaborative work, which means that individual members are keenly aware of others’ strengths and weaknesses. It is crucial that task forces clarify individual members’ roles and responsibilities to establish clear expectations and rules of engagement between and among members.
Questions to Ask When Defining Roles and Responsibilities
Here are some common questions that should be considered in defining roles and responsibilities:
Whose responsibility is it to create the task force agenda and take minutes?
Is there a clear delineation among law enforcement task force members of who is the lead investigative unit based on victim typology?
Are there different victim services organizations designated as the lead depending on victim typology?
Is the local police department expected to take sole or lead investigative responsibilities for a case prosecuted at the state level?
Will there be a single point of contact to coordinate all contact with the media, or will each member respond based on their own agency’s protocols?
How can agencies or organizations in your community request training and presentations from the task force?
How will funds available to the task force be divided up in order to support task force operations, and which organization is responsible for grant administration?
Tips for Clarifying Roles and Responsibilities
Take every opportunity to promote clear communication about the specific roles and responsibilities of each task force member. Frustrations can be greatly reduced through a shared understanding of roles, responsibilities, limitations, and capabilities. It may be helpful to share specific funding budgets related to the task force, including funds specifically designated for victims' needs (OVC funds, discretionary funds), or dedicated officers or case managers to further this understanding.
Highlight the strengths of each provider agency and the services offered to ensure that services are provided that match the needs of the case. A chart that specifically identifies each task force member as (1) investigative, (2) prosecutorial, (3) victim services organization, or (4) other, and their specific expertise (immigrant or U.S. citizen, state or federal case, youth, and/or adult victim, etc.) will help keep this information accessible.
Establish a formal task force protocol that details the roles and responsibilities of members during a human trafficking case. This can ensure that referrals and tips are made in an efficient manner, which is critically important in crisis situations. Note how decisions will be made at the (1) identification/screening, (2) investigation, (3) prosecution, and (4) post-prosecution stages of a human trafficking case.
Schedule time for task force members to give brief presentations about their work, resources, and expertise during task force meetings. Ensure new members are clear on the work of all other members.
Consider developing a local guide containing information from these presentations and other materials about each partner in the task force, which may be utilized by new task force members and/or organizations.
Well-articulated Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or Memorandums of Agreement (MOA) are essential to defining each organization’s roles and responsibilities and holding everyone accountable to those tasks. MOUs should include an agency’s specific commitment to the task force and outline its responsibility to meet that commitment. MOUs should be reviewed and re-signed periodically as an opportunity for an agency to reevaluate and refamiliarize itself with its commitment to the task force, and to share that information with any new task force members.
Establish an annual Action Plan that guides all planned activities for the task force for the coming year. This may include action items from the various task force subcommittees.