Sheriff’s office in search of victim assistance advocates

MANISTEE COUNTY — For those dealing with difficult situations, a helping hand from a complete stranger can make a huge difference in the process of healing and finding comfort.

That’s what victim advocates provide to others: Support.

The Victim Services Program started in 1988 through the Michigan Sheriff’s Association (MSA). In 2006, the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office formed a Victim Services Unit, which has mostly consisted of friends and colleagues of law enforcement officers.

Throughout the years, the unit’s Victims Assistance Program has seen many volunteers; however, the sheriff’s office is now ready to recruit more victim assistance advocates to add to its team.

Manistee County sheriff John O’Hagan said the volunteer work is met with plenty of rewarding experiences, but also serves as a vital service to others in the community.

“We want advocates who are caring, compassionate individuals from our community who would like to volunteer their time to help families cope with the loss of a loved one, assist a victim of a crime, or just simply provide comfort and direction to those in need,” said O’Hagan.

On Thursday night last week, the sheriff’s office held a meeting for interested volunteers, which served as the first step in the process for potential advocates. Although several interested residents showed up, O’Hagan said more applicants are encouraged to apply.

“This meeting was strictly informational to inform potential candidates of the history of the team, expectations and to educate them on the importance of the program,” he said.

Currently, the sheriff’s office is searching for about six to eight team members to start out with. He said no money is budgeted through county funds; the program exists though donations from public fundraising.

To join, the MSA conducts a 20-hour training each advocate is required to attend.

“They basically train the advocate in subjects that include the five stages of grief, effective communication techniques, law enforcement protocols and the rights of victims in the criminal justice system,” he said. “Whenever law enforcement, fire fighters or emergency personnel come across an incident where a victim exists, we call out our team.”

During an emergency call, two advocates are typically called to assist while law enforcement complete their work on scene.

“Typical calls for service include sudden death like accidents, drowning, suicide and medical issues, domestic violence and other instances where someone may have fear or be grieving,” said O’Hagan.

Advocates are volunteers; however, the sheriff’s office pays for all costs associated with training advocates like hotel rooms, meals and mileage. Advocates need to log 16-hours a year of patrol time with deputies.

“When an advocate responds to a call for service, this is strictly done by our wonderful caring volunteers without compensation,” he said. “This is how relationships are built, as well as familiarity with everyone involved. An advocate gets a front row seat to the day-to-day activities of a law enforcement officer.”

The unit holds quarterly meetings to discuss call outs, trends or issues to better the team, O’Hagan said. In addition, T-shirts and jackets are provided, along with identification.

Any time donated toward the program is valuable to both victims and emergency personnel in times of need, said O’Hagan.

“If you have some time to donate, and you are a compassionate person, this opportunity is for you,” he said. “You don’t have to respond to every call, but if you are available, what a perfect opportunity to give back and make a difference for someone not so fortunate, or who is going through a really tough time.”

For more information, to apply or to schedule a meeting about the team, contact sheriff O’Hagan at (231) 723-8393.

 

 

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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