Arizona: Pinal County Sheriff's Office
Pinal County, Arizona, between Phoenix and Tucson, covers 5,374 square miles with an average of 34 persons per square mile. Western Pinal County is open desert and home to bedroom communities of both metropolitan areas, while the east is mountainous and rural. The county is contiguous to three Indian reservations. It is the second fastest growing county in the Nation, with a population of 179,727 in 2000 and an estimated 271,059 in 2006.
Residents are predominantly White (59 percent), Hispanic (30 percent), Native American (7 percent), and Black (4 percent). The median household income is $40,255, and 15 percent of the population lives in poverty. Less than 12 percent of residents 25 years and older have a college degree, and 25 percent speak a language other than English in their homes. There is no public transportation in unincorporated regions and limited access in incorporated areas. The Pinal County Sheriff's Office has 602 employees: 246 sworn officers, 111 civilian employees, and 245 jail and corrections employees.
Due to rapid growth in the county population, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office faced increases in crime and demand for its services. To address this demand, it needed to find a way to allow its deputies to more quickly clear calls while ensuring response to crime victims did not suffer. Its solution was to create a Victim Services Division Volunteer Corps to provide on-scene assistance to crime victims 24/7 and followup support. The sheriff's office hired a volunteer coordinator through the OVC grant to act as the program administrator and trainer, as well as office liaison to the County Attorney's Victim Services Division and other government and community agencies that serve victims.
The coordinator used information gathered through a needs assessment and from key stakeholders in the community and county government to design the program and develop policies, procedures, forms, and protocols. During the process of recruiting volunteers, the sheriff's office realized there was interest from citizens, retired law enforcement officers, and criminal justice employees in a wide range of volunteer activities within the agency. This interest, paired with the county's changing law enforcement needs, led the sheriff's office to widen the scope of work volunteers could undertake. Subsequently, the Volunteer Corps became the Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB) Volunteer Service Program, consisting of the following:
- Victim service volunteers provided crime scene aid to victims and their families, including crisis response, grief/loss intervention, information and referral, transportation, aid with basic needs, and followup assistance. Volunteers were recruited from each of the three regions and eight communities the sheriff's office served, so response time was reduced when they were dispatched from their homes.
- Identification unit volunteers assisted and supported the Crime Scene Unit in working with technicians at crime scenes and storing evidence files, photographs, and written documentation.
- Cold case squad members, usually retired law enforcement officers, worked individual homicide cases.
- Administrative support volunteers provided clerical and administrative support to CIB departments.
The program has since expanded to include chaplain's unit volunteers, victim service domestic violence response members, Gold Canyon Citizens on Patrol, and professional volunteers including forensic artists and fraud investigators. There was some resistance to program expansion from community and governmental stakeholders involved in initial planningin retrospect, the sheriff's office would have stressed from the start that flexibility was critical in planning and implementation of this project. The coordinator was charged with developing a system to manage this volunteer program that met county and sheriff's office standards. Although the rapid expansion of the program created additional development and management work for the coordinator, it also made her indispensable to the agency.
The sheriff's office donated four seized vehicles to the Victim Service Program. An auto dealership and tire company provided maintenance in exchange for advertising on the vehicles. Volunteers used pagers, wore uniforms, and had access to police radios when on call. Bags stocked with flashlights, first aid kits, personal care items for victims, and games and stuffed animals for children also were available to volunteers responding to calls.
By the grant's end, 130 volunteer candidates had been screened using criminal and traffic violation histories, an oral board interview, fingerprinting, and a background investigation. Of these candidates, 79 completed a 43-hour training program. Although the intensive screening process limited the number of candidates who went on to volunteer, it was a useful measure of the candidates' commitment to the work. Volunteers attended monthly supervision/training meetings.
Between March 2005 and December 2006, the Victim Service Program responded to 128 calls, mostly to victims' homes or the crime scene, and served 1,550 victims. Average response time was 42 minutes. In a majority of cases, victims also received followup assistance or support. Not only did the program allow deputies to connect victims with useful resources, but it also enabled them to spend less time at the crime scene.
The coordinator received certification as an Arizona Police Officers Standards and Training Instructor in victimology and became an instructor at the regional police academy, training all new law enforcement officers in the county and its municipalities. She also created a training program on victimology for county justices of the peace and superior court judges and worked with the Adult Probation Office to develop a presentence services program for victims.
The sheriff's office continued the program and sustained the coordinator's position at the end of the grant period. The office also received a grant award from the Office on Violence Against Women to enhance its response to domestic violence victims and their children. In addition, the coordinator entered into an agreement with the state Department of Corrections—each month, prisoners at one facility were to raise funds for or donate directly to a Victim Service Program fund.
In 2006, the coordinator received the Pinal County Sheriff's Office Employee of the Year Award. The Arizona Attorney General selected the project for the 2006 Most Innovative Victim Services Award. In 2007, NSA recognized the program with its Crime Victim Services Award. The program was slated to be replicated in multiple jurisdictions in Arizona.