Mobile County Sheriff's Office
Mobile County in southwestern Alabama has an estimated 404,157 residents (2006). Its 1,233 square miles include urban and rural communities. The population in unincorporated areas (127,535) increased 27 percent from 1990 to 2002, while the population of Mobile, the county's largest city, declined. County residents are primarily White (61 percent) and Black (35 percent). Small but growing Asian and Hispanic populations may not be represented in county census statistics. The median household income is $33,191, and 20 percent of residents live in poverty. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 19 percent have a college degree. The Mobile County Sheriff's Office has 161 sworn personnel.
The Mobile County Sheriff's Office used the OVC grant to create a Victim Service Program to address gaps in law enforcement and victim services in the rural parts of the county. The office needed to stretch its resources to adequately serve the growing population in unincorporated areas. It also responded to a disproportionate number of domestic violence calls in these areas.
Planning for this program kicked off with a community needs assessment conducted by a local university professor. Feedback was sought from victims on their satisfaction with law enforcement and prosecution and gaps in victim services. A review of local resources and promising practices in victim assistance was done. Based on the needs identified, the Victim Service Program took the following form:
- A victim services coordinator was hired to serve as the liaison between victims, the office, and social services. The coordinator received incident reports from deputies and contacted victims within 72 hours of the crime to provide them with resources and referrals. She collaborated with local agencies to assist victims; a volunteer from Catholic Hispanic Ministry, for example, helped her reply to Spanish-speaking victims.
- The sheriff's office transferred a deputy detective from its child protection unit to serve as a domestic violence officer, providing support to the coordinator in domestic violence cases. The domestic violence officer attended court for cases that she investigated, signed warrants, and/or received a subpoena. The victim services coordinator attended court hearings as requested to support victims.
- An existing information card that deputies provided to victims during initial response was redesigned to be more user-friendly and include space for the responding deputy's contact data. It was printed in English and Spanish.
- The coordinator developed a recycled 911 cell phone program, which distributed phones to domestic violence victims and elder victims. The local domestic violence shelter collected used cell phones in return for funding, so the sheriff's office sought used phones only from county government employees.
- The coordinator and domestic violence officer coordinated a 30-minute victim services training session and a 90-minute domestic violence training session for deputies. These trainings were incorporated into the office's yearly in-service training program that every deputy was required to attend.
- The coordinator and domestic violence officer participated on the County Domestic Violence Task Force.
- A database was developed to keep track of offense data, contacts with victims, and referrals to community services. The existing domestic violence database was also enhanced.
- The sheriff's office established a multidisciplinary Victim Services Committee to monitor the effectiveness of the program. A ranking deputy in administration and a patrol deputy were involved to ensure law enforcement input. This committee met quarterly to review progress and assess for needed changes. It also provided the program with additional resources, training, and volunteer assistance.
- Staff mailed 1,784 letters to victims during the last year and a half of the grant. They conducted 885 victim followups and provided referrals to social service agencies more than 350 times. The program received overwhelmingly positive feedback from victims on the usefulness of the new services.
During the last year of the grant, a new sheriff was appointed, a new administration put in place, and changes in office personnel and procedures were made. Program staff met with the new administration regarding the continuation of the victim service program. At the end of the grant period, the sheriff's office used agency discretionary funds to extend the program on a short-term basis and give the victim services coordinator time to secure additional funding. However, funds were not secured and the position was discontinued.
Services implemented by the program that continued included victim followup by detectives in investigated cases, distribution of the new victim services cards, agency participation on the Domestic Violence Task Force, the attendance of the domestic violence officer in court for required cases and as requested by victims, the cell phone recycling program, and deputy training on domestic violence and victim services.