As the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week ends, the NOPD’s Victim Witness Assistance Unit continues to develop new services to help victims and witnesses cope with grief and trauma associated with major crimes.
The NOPD’s Victim Witness Assistance Unit is responsible for reaching out, assisting victims of major crimes while offering various resources to help address their specific needs like helping to facilitate the application process for Crime Victims Reparation.
“We reach out to victims who have been affected by some major crime we do help out the next of kin of families who have experienced a homicide,” said Victim Witness Assistance Unit Coordinator Rhonda Hill.
The grant funded program offers funds to help families with burial cost for their loved ones if family members don’t have insurance or the necessary funds to have a funeral. However, the unit hopes to bring awareness to other services it provides like counseling. Over the last year and a half, the unit has made some changes by hiring four civilian workers including three licensed social workers and one administrative assistant. In addition, the unit has two graduate school student interns. Since the end of November, the unit has been offering free one-on-one counseling to victims and witnesses of crime.
“It’s a new service to the unit but we found that it was needed and it has been effective so far now that it’s in place,” said Hill.
Rhonda Hill and Kristin Sceau are both licensed social workers who work as coordinators and justice advocates in the unit. Alicia Cupid, who is also licensed social worker, conducts the counseling sessions for all victims. The NOPD counselors say so far more than 24 victims have utilized the service and they’re hoping to encourage more victims to seek counseling as a resource.
“It’s more of an immediate relief to get victims stabilized again to be able to move forward,” said Hill.
The Victim/Witness Assistance Unit provides the following assistance:
- Safety Planning
- Victim Advocacy
- Crisis Intervention
- Crime Victims Reparations
- Grief and Trauma Counseling
- Community Resource
- Case Update Information
- Information on the Criminal Justice Process
The department was able to create the counseling position after applying for a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant, which is a federal grant designed to help victims and victim service providers with funding in accordance with the Office of Victims of Crimes. The funds can be used to develop new programs that address emerging needs, gaps in services as well as training for victim service advocates.
Sceau contacts victims directly after receiving the daily major offense log, which is a list, composed of major incidents such a carjackings, armed robberies, aggravated burglary, rape and other violent offenses. She contacts about 10 to 15 victims and family members a day, informing them of their rights and services that the department provides. At times, the unit collaborates closely with Homicide detectives and the social workers that assist victims of sexual assaults under the NOPD’s Sex Crimes Unit.
“It gives you a sense of reward when you know you can provide a service to people who are actually dealing with a traumatic experience and it’s important to understand the sensitivity,” said Sceau.
Although the counseling isn’t a long term service, the unit is hoping this new service will help foster a strong relationship with victims of crime.
“If victims are in need of housing, we can help facilitate that process and help find them resources to obtain housing because of an incident or if they are in need of food,” said Hill. “It’s just a wealth of services that we provide to victims and counseling is one of them.”
If you or someone you know has been a victim of a violent crime, encourage them to contact NOPD's Victim Witness Assistance Unit at 504-658-6795.