Sheriff’s Office welcomes new Victim Services team members

Pictured are the Manistee County Sheriff's Office Victim Services advocates (from left to right), deputy Jason Traeger, Brenda Reckow, Amy Falk, Carly Krepps, Emilia Rennie, Mary Nezki, Brent Murphy, Debbie Diehl and sheriff John O'Hagan. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

Pictured are the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office Victim Services advocates (from left to right), deputy Jason Traeger, Brenda Reckow, Amy Falk, Carly Krepps, Emilia Rennie, Mary Nezki, Brent Murphy, Debbie Diehl and sheriff John O’Hagan. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

MANISTEE COUNTY — When it comes to emergency situations, first responders often need assistance with providing resources to families in need, no matter the situation.

Whether it’s a fire or a domestic violence situation, the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office victim advocates, that volunteer under the Victim Services Unit, are called to the scene to assist first responders.

The Victim Services program started in 1988 through the Michigan Sheriffs’ 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.

While the program previously had a low number of participants, deputy Jason Traeger, Victim Services Unit coordinator, said it now has seven team members, who are all finished with training.

“Typically two will go out on a call; they get called out to a scene to assist a family, and if it warrants more they will call in. So generally it will be two people that will respond,” Traeger said. “There’s a three day, 20-hour course in Houghton Lake that certifies them in Victim Services through the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.”

There’s a number of duties that a victim advocate would fulfill while called to a scene, Traeger said.

“(They provide) moral support, and the other part of the spectrum that the officers are not there for, so the family knows what needs to happen,” he said. “They will assist them with anything like funeral arrangements to connecting them with pastor, clergy members or any assistance. We will give them the resources to contact medical examiners and anyone else that they would need to (help) with their loved one.”

Manistee County sheriff John O’Hagan said the program is more successful with a wide selection of volunteers.

“It’s going to be different to have more to pick from than three or four people, because they are just volunteers,” said O’Hagan. “If you have more to pick from; if one (volunteer) is not available on one night, then they don’t have to feel bad that they cannot go because they have six more to pick from. It’s important to make sure that we have a good crop.”

Brenda Reckow, a volunteer of four and a half years, said her experience as a victim advocate started when she had a traumatic event happen to her, and a local Victim Services Unit responded to the emergency situation.

“I retired early and had some family trauma myself, and a team from Mason County came to help us,” said Reckow. “I have never heard of Victim Services before then; they were wonderful. As soon as I was well enough, I thought ‘I am going to see if we have one in Manistee County’ and we did. I went to the training and I have been doing it ever since. It’s very rewarding. ”

Reckow said the training is an ongoing process.

“We counsel the survivors of the victim whether it be suicide, natural death, domestic violence or a fire, just anything where somebody may be in need of some type of counselling,” she said. “It frees up time for the officers, at some type of event or car accident, to be able to do their job while help take care of the family.”

O’Hagan said the newly trained victim advocates are almost ready to respond to calls.

“I am excited to finally have a full team, with people who are getting along. It’s amazing all of their ideas that they are sharing,” said O’Hagan. “I am excited to watch them grow. They are ready to go on ride alongs, because they will spend time with the officers to get to know them and then start responding to calls, like they were trained to do.”

Taking over as coordinator, Traeger said that serving this new role is both fulfilling and a whole new challenge in itself.

“I feel that it’s a good challenge and an opportunity to give back to the community and the sheriff’s office, as well,” he said. “I think it’s a blessing to have (this program) as a resource for anyone in the community.

“You might get into a certain situation — let’s say you are elderly and do not have anyone to look back at — they can show up and fill the hole in the situation, make you feel like you have somebody for least a couple of hours or whatever the case may be.”

Traeger said anyone interested in joining the team can reach out to the Sheriff’s Office at any time, as the program is open for new team members.

“It’s open all of the time, if anybody has an interest they can seek me out at the Sheriff’s Office and they can inquire about the team,” he said. “We do not have a team limit. We have seven members now, so we have a great start to the group and will see how it goes. If there’s any room to grow, I am sure we will be open to that growth.”

For more information about the Victim Services Unit and the role of a victim advocate, contact Traeger at the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office 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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