California: Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office
Siskiyou County is located on the northern border of California adjacent to Oregon, with 6,287 square miles and an average of seven persons per square mile. Its land includes five national forests, four major wilderness areas, and a large number of lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Elevations vary from a low of 520 feet near its western boundary to 14,162 feet atop Mt. Shasta. The county has an estimated population of 46,091 (2006), with residents disbursed over a dozen small communities (54 percent reside in unincorporated areas).
Residents are predominantly White (83 percent), Hispanic (9 percent), and Native American/Alaska Native (4 percent). Much of western Siskiyou County lies outside of the power grid, making telephone service available only to residents of incorporated towns and those who live along main transportation routes. The median household income is $32,531, and 15 percent of residents live in poverty. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 18 percent have a college degree. Public services have suffered since the closure of most of the county's lumber mills and the reduction of tax revenues from this industry. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office has 95 staff in enforcement/patrol and 40 staff in the jail.
Using the OVC grant, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office created a Victim Service Unit to build its capacity to assist crime victims and support them in accessing services available in the community. Specifically, the unit strove to enhance its immediate response to victims, improve safety for victims and first responders, reduce victim trauma, encourage victims to use local services, and increase involvement of community agencies in serving crime victims and coordination across agencies to maximize services.
The administrator who was assigned to the Victim Service Unit had previously managed the office's Community Crisis Resistance Unit. She brought with her knowledge of the county's courts, social services, and advocacy systems and was state certified as a victim-witness advocate. Her duties included overseeing a countywide needs assessment of resources and gaps in victim assistance, operating the unit, facilitating collaborative activities, and serving as a liaison for the sheriff's office with the community.
As a result of the needs assessment, the unit sought to provide or coordinate the following victim services: on-scene crisis intervention, financial assistance, criminal justice support and advocacy, transportation assistance, mental health services, legal assistance, and emergency food, clothing, and shelter. To assist her in services provision, the administrator trained three volunteers to be part of a family violence response team piloted in one area within the county. She anticipated expanding the area served by this team in the future.
An advisory board was created to advise the unit. The board included representatives from countywide law enforcement agencies, the county district attorney's office, the county Victim Witness Program, the Violence and Crisis Center, the local domestic violence program, Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, the Senior Peer Counseling Program, and the Yreka Senior Program. The regional Area Agency on Aging and the Senior Advocacy Center of Northern California were also partners—the involvement of several groups that advocated for older adults was due to a project focus on addressing a gap in responding to domestic elder abuse. The board met regularly to assess unit goals, objectives, and progress. As part of its community awareness campaign, the unit and its partners presented unit goals and objectives to the County Board of Supervisors to gain its support.
The sheriff's office developed policies to enhance initial response to crime victims. Education was critical in building agency personnel's awareness of victim issues and in getting local organizations to coordinate with the unit. In addition to training deputies on the new policies, the unit trained first responders on responses to family violence and dispatcher liability in domestic violence calls. Programs on sexual assault and elder and dependent adult abuse were offered to victim service providers and criminal justice personnel within the county. The unit conducted train-the-trainer classes for first responders and local resource providers to build capacity for more training across the county on responding to crime victims. The administrator also did community outreach—presentations, newspaper articles, and victim service Web site information were used to increase residents' knowledge of victims' rights and encourage their use of local resources if they became victims of crime.
The unit assisted 146 crime victims during the grant period. Although it took time to build relationships between the sheriff's office Victim Service Unit and local organizations, the result was increased networking among these agencies to address the needs of individual victims. Unit efforts also led to systemic improvements in response to crime victims. For example, prior to the grant, rape victims had to travel to neighboring county hospitals for examinations and treatment. With a more coordinated response to victims spearheaded by the unit, the Siskiyou Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) was able to establish an examination site at a local hospital.
Toward the end of the grant period, the administrator focused on making the unit and her position permanent within the sheriff's office. But with budget cuts looming, it was impossible to sustain the momentum for institutionalization of the unit. Ultimately, the Elder Abuse Unit, the Veterans Office, and the Victims Service Unit were combined into one unit under the project administrator.