Volunteer Victim Advocates: Cochise County, Arizona
Cochise County, Arizona, has a volunteer program that provides services ranging from crisis intervention to court accompaniment. The office has approximately 60 volunteers, some of whom have been with the program since it began 15 years ago. The average volunteer stays for several years, with new volunteers recruited through newspaper and radio advertisements, and by word of mouth. Today, the program's budget is more than five times what it was only a decade ago.
The County Attorney's Office places a heavy emphasis on preparing its volunteers for the challenges they may face. All volunteers must complete a 40-hour crisis intervention training program provided by the prosecutor's office, funded through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and various state and local grants, and conducted in each of the county's five geographic areas, as needed. Volunteers who want to accompany victims to court must complete additional training that includes shadowing an experienced advocate.
Volunteers also receive monthly trainings on topics that range from domestic violence to CPR.
For the past 10 years, one supporterthe Arizona Prosecuting Attorney's Advisory Councilhas spent approximately $8,000 to $10,000 per year on transportation, meals, and conference fees to send 25 volunteers to the annual statewide victim conference.
Volunteers Always On Call
Each of the five areas in the county has two volunteers on call at all times. These volunteers respond to crime scenes along with law enforcement officials to offer whatever support and information the victims need. This may require that volunteers go beyond their normal duties. When volunteers are asked to take domestic violence or child sexual abuse victims to a shelter or other safe location, for instance, they may have to drive the victim across the county, about 100 miles. In homicide cases, volunteers may make death notifications, help with funeral arrangements, or even clean the crime scene.
In addition to training volunteers, program staff also teach police officers about victims' rights and the roles and responsibilities of the volunteers and how they can help both police and victims. Although some members of the law enforcement community initially felt threatened by the volunteers, responding officers are increasingly asking for their assistance.
Cooperation From Victims
The heightened level of cooperation from victims also illustrates the success of the program. This is due, in part, to the increased attention victims receive from the volunteers, which includes greater followup. Before the volunteer program was implemented, court accompaniment was available to victims only in extreme cases. Now it is available to victims in any misdemeanor or felony case, and help is always available for requesting orders of protection.
The Cochise County program has extensive paperwork to completeorganizing, filing, and recordkeepingto keep track of so many volunteers and to document statistics for grant requirements. For this reason, the director of the Cochise County program recommends that any jurisdiction starting a similar program build in time for these administrative duties from the beginning.