The Mobile Police Department is one of 17 law enforcement agencies nationwide that has been awarded a grant to help victims of crime. The Office for Victims of Crime awarded the police department $437,464. The funding is to be used to develop and sustain a comprehensive victim assistance program that provides services to all identifiable victims of crime, their families and the community.
Three victim advocates have already been hired to educate and assist victims in exercising their rights. Although the advocates are tasked with improving the response to all crime victims, a strong focus is placed on reaching victims in high-crime areas and improving services to these crime victims.
“Our goal is to create a safer community and in order to do that we have to focus on more than locking up the bad guy,” said Commander Curtis Graves of the Mobile Police Department Office of Strategic Initiatives. “We need to understand the impact of trauma and how to respond effectively to those who have experienced trauma.”
Victims may experience anything from shock, disbelief, guilt and shame to anxiety, depression, violation, difficulty sleeping and post-traumatic stress. Attending to the victim’s emotional and physical safety, the victim advocates provide trauma-informed care, safety planning, criminal justice support, crisis intervention, referrals to community services, and access to information.
“Victims have rights and they have a voice that should be heard,” said Victim Advocate Stacey Woodyard. “Our hope is to cultivate a victim-centered relationship between the victim and law enforcement.”
Graves and his team believe that by adopting a victim-centered approach, they can help decrease trauma within the community. This means the victim is at the center of all decisions regarding recovery and involvement with the criminal justice system. The victim’s choice, safety, and well-being are the focus and the needs of the victim are everyone’s concern.
Every victim has a right to due process, fairness, dignity, respect and privacy, according to the Alabama law for crime victims. Victims have the right to be heard and the right to reasonable protection. However, victims’ rights are not automatically granted. Victims must request the rights they want to exercise, and must cooperate with the investigation in order to receive assistance from a victim advocate.
Victims may qualify for assistance if the crime was reported to law enforcement within 72 hours. And, of course, the victim cannot have contributed to the crime in any way. An application for assistance must be received within one year of the date of the crime.