The Member Spotlight profiles the work and accomplishments of National Center for Victims of Crime members.
The Member Spotlight is on . . .
Director Winchester Victim Witness Program
Commonwealth Attorney's Office
540-667-5770 ext. 431
National Center for Victims of Crime member since 1999
Tell us about your work.
The Winchester Victim Witness Assistance Program of the Commonwealth Attorney's Office serves victims and witnesses in Winchester, Virginia, a 9.2 square mile city with a population of 26,203. I am a retired police detective from Nassau County, New York, and have been with the Commonwealth Attorney's Office for 16 years. Along with Program Assistant Director Mandy Vecero, I work to ensure victims and witnesses are informed of their rights, know the status of their cases (including court and sentencing dates and information), and have access to the prosecutor handling their case. We also help victims collect restitution and file medical and Criminal Injuries Compensation claims.
By guiding and supporting victims throughout the judicial process, we are able to avoid causing additional trauma or burdens on them. For example, if a victim has anxiety about testifying, we set up a meeting with the prosecutor to tour the courtroom so they know what they will be walking into.
In 2009, our Program received the "Program of the Year Award" from the Virginia Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.
Is there an innovation in your program that can be replicated in other communities?
I don't really think it is an innovation, but having a great working relationship with the prosecutors, their staff, law enforcement, and service providers who all work for a common goal is a great advantage. We also have a great working relationship with the defense bar, which helps facilitate the collection of restitution from their clients. Early collection of restitution is especially important so victims have the financial resources necessary to help them cope with their victimization.
What have you learned from working with crime victims?
I've learned that every victim is different but all need compassion, support, and information as they navigate the often grueling criminal justice system. A case may not have an unknown or fugitive suspect or lack sufficient evidence to prosecutor. While neither we nor the victim have control over the decisions of the prosecutor or courts, just having someone to explain and guide them through the judicial process can make a big difference.
I have also learned that it's not possible to meet every need of every victim, but it's still important they know there is a compassionate ear available. Working for a program that serves large number of victims and witnesses requires the ability to multitask because you are responsible for knowing the unique facts and circumstances of each person's case. This can be overwhelming and you cannot always control what happens, but you do your best and make sure each victim knows we care about what happens to them.
What do you think are the most pressing needs of those who work with victims of crime?
Cooperation. I feel everyone, including police dispatchers, responding officers, medical providers, the prosecutor's office, victim witness staff, judges, court personnel, and post-conviction professionals, need to be motivated to provide the best services possible to crime victims. Everyone needs to understand that working together helps ensure victims are afforded their rights. Last year's theme for National Crime Victims' Rights Week best articulates the fundamental victim rights we all need to work toward ensuring: Fairness, Dignity, and Respect.
Support. Anyone who works with victims needs a support system, not just for emotional support, but also for somewhere to turn for advice, information, or training. We cannot be expected to have all the answers, so connections to our colleagues in the field are essential.
Self-care. The old adage is"leave your work at the office," but sometimes, that's impossible. As providers to so many people who have had their worlds turned upside down, we have to be able to stop and to reflect on our lives or take a break from this difficult work to prevent burnout.
Why are you a National Center for Victims of Crime member?
I am a member because of the resources the National Center for Victims of Crime provides to help us better serve victims and witnesses of crime.