New Mexico: Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office
Dona Ana County, in south-central New Mexico, shares borders with El Paso County, Texas, and Chihuahua, Mexico. This primarily rural county covers 3,806 miles, with an average of 46 persons per square mile. In rural areas, public transportation is virtually nonexistent, and many citizens do not have telephones. Its estimated population of 193,888 (2006) is primarily Hispanic (65 percent) and White (31 percent). The population grew by about 19,000 since 2000.
The median household income is $30,740, and 23 percent of citizens live in poverty. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 22 percent have a college degree. Las Cruces, the county seat, and the town of Hatch, the focus of the grant, are 45 minutes apart. The Hatch Valley area, estimated population 1,649 (2006), is made up of 8 farming communities. The population estimate would be higher if undocumented immigrant farm workers were included. The Hatch Valley area is served by a local police department and the Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office. The Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office has 155 sworn and 30 reserve deputies.
The Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office used OVC funding to hire a victim advocate for its existing Victim Assistance Unit and to develop a satellite office in the Hatch Valley area. The advocate focused in particular on serving victims of domestic and sexual violence, the most frequently committed crimes in the county, and reaching out to the significant undocumented migrant worker population. To assist with providing services on a 24/7 basis in Hatch Valley and the rest of the county, the unit recruited and trained 13 volunteers.
The advocate sought input from victims for a needs assessment. After getting no response to a survey, she successfully gathered data through face-to-face interviews with victims and surveyed local service providers. Subsequently, the advocate worked to raise public awareness in the Hatch Valley area about victimization issues and the availability of unit services to all crime victims. She used paid advertising, such as bulletin boards and newspaper advertisements in English and Spanish, developed and disseminated printed materials for victims in English and Spanish, distributed project materials at community events and through outlets in the community, and made educational presentations in English and Spanish. She also built partnerships with local organizations to expand resources for victims and encourage referrals to the unit. She participated on various task forces to network with service providers and raise unit visibility. She reached out to the Hatch Police Department, state police, the local public school system, a health clinic, and local churches.
The unit did outreach to get undocumented immigrants to use its services. Key to building trust was positive word of mouth among this population regarding the usefulness of services and staff efforts to advocate on their behalf. For example, all individuals traveling to Hatch Valley are required to stop at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint running through the northern part of the county. Undocumented individuals are typically taken into custody and deported. The unit worked to ensure that its staff could transport undocumented victims of trafficking or domestic violence to Las Cruces for criminal justice services in compliance with the Violence Against Women Act of 2005.
Unit staff provided training and materials for deputies. An advanced training included information on the dynamics of rural crime victimization, barriers victims face, and specific information on domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. While the sheriff demonstrated support for victim services, the advocate had to prove that establishing these services in Hatch Valley was beneficial to deputies as well as victims. By the last year of the grant, both sheriff's deputies and Hatch police officers were referring victims to the advocate. The Hatch Police Department even invited the sheriff's office to move its victim advocate into a new municipal building that housed the police department and the state police. The advocate made the move and reported it was a convenient location for victims to access services.
More than 400 victims were served by the project during the grant period; 85 percent were domestic violence and/or sexual assault victims. Toward the grant's end, the sheriff's office requested the county board make permanent the advocate's position and another grant-funded position in the Victim Assistance Unit. Both positions were funded.