By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service
LANSING— More than 1,000 volunteers statewide are working to provide services to crime and accident victims through a Michigan Sheriffs’ Association training program.
They visit victims’ families with police officers, tell people of the death of their loved ones, stay with them and comfort them.
“We call a pastor, inform their family members and help notify them of their rights. We don’t let them fear or grieve alone,” said Kam Bradman, the association’s victim services unit trainer.
“We had a 20-hour training program recently in Berrien County on helping victims of suicide, crime and accidents. We also trained volunteers on cultural diversity, which is very important when comforting people with religious beliefs,” said Terrence Jungel, executive director of the association.
For example, James Linderman, the prosecuting attorney of Emmet County, said, “In a recent shooting in Emmet County, the advocates were activated in comforting the victim’s family.”
Volunteer advocates are available 24 hours per day and are unpaid.
Two advocates respond to any request for assistance once they are called by police officers at the incident scene. They comfort victims and educate them about their rights.
Bradman said, “Over half of the counties in Michigan have victim advocate teams running right now.”
The association has been developing the program for more than 20 years. Eight more counties were added in 2009 and 10 additional ones are joining in this year. The first training session for the newest participants will take place in March in Menominee County.
Bradman said, “Everybody responds to trauma in different ways, and we are trained to identify and process their responses. It’s really hard to inform people of the death of their loved ones.
“The biggest difficulty is to recognize a devastated emotional condition and handle it professionally. We shouldn’t let the situation overwhelm us,” he said.
Victim advocates also are in touch with victims of domestic violence and help provide them with shelter and survivor networks.
Bradman said, “It’s really important to allow ordinary citizens work as volunteers to assist state and township police. There has to be a way victims have their needs met.”
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Alan Schneider said that the sheriffs’ association program is similar to, but not the same as, the victim-witness program offered by county prosecutor offices and that pays more attention to protecting victims’ safety.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.