Court Advocacy Combines Community Activism with 'Law and Order' Excitement

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano on February 20, 2013 6:45am 

 Defendant's seat at San Mateo County Superior court Jan. 21, 2004, in Redwood City, Calif.
Defendant's seat at San Mateo County Superior court Jan. 21, 2004, in Redwood City, Calif.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

NEAR NORTH — "Law & Order" fanatics: the Chicago Police Department wants you.

Sitting in on the trial for a crime committed in your neighborhood can make the experience infinitely better for the victim, and shows judges that the community is invested in the result, police officer Joe Incaprera says.

On Wednesday, the Near North police district will host one of three annual training sessions for court advocacy, a program that encourages volunteers to keep track of crimes in their neighborhood and participate in related legal proceedings.

"A court advocate ... is basically supporting the victims of the crime, and the community in general," Incaprera said.

Incaprera and the Near North district's court advocates meet once a month to review cases they're monitoring and choose new ones to follow.

"We'll go over different cases that happen for our district ... [and] select, for lack of a better term, 'interesting' cases that have occurred within our district," he said. "We follow the case and track it, from the preliminary until the actual verdict, or whatever the resolution may be ... We try to attend each case and each hearing."

Their greatest impact is when a particular case is called in court: The goal is to have a strong showing of support when interested parties are asked to rise.

"We rise in unison so that the officers, the victim, the court personnel — including the judge — know that we are here on that case," Incaprera said. "It sends a message to all parties involved that we have people that have a vested interest in this case. Being a victim is hard enough, and then when you have to go to court, it can be a struggle for some people, if not most. So when you have the advocates there, it kind of gives that support."

The next advocacy training session is from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Near North district station, 1160 N. Larrabee St. Incaprera said interested community members are encouraged to come learn about the program and qualify for participation.

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