Ohio: Ross County Sheriff's Office
Ross County, in south central Ohio, is 687 square miles and divided into 16 townships. Of its estimated population of 75,556 (2006), 50,000 live in unincorporated areas. Since 2000, the population increased by 2,000. Chillicothe, the county seat, has 21,000 residents and is 46 miles from Columbus. The county population is predominately Appalachian (92 percent White) and Black (6 percent).
The median household income is $38,939, and 12 percent of residents live in poverty. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 11 percent have a college degree. The county is served by the Ross County Sheriff's Office, the Chillicothe Police Department, and the State Highway Patrol. Townships and villages outside of Chillicothe are under the authority of the sheriff's office. The Ross County Sheriff's Office has 110 employees: 60 sworn officers, 11 civilian employees, and 39 jail and corrections employees.
The Ross County Sheriff's Office recognized that while numerous victim assistance organizations existed in the county, crime victims were often unaware of available services or had difficulty determining which agencies could best address their needs. Using the OVC grant, the sheriff's office created Project Unite—a coordinated victim services network comprising law enforcement agencies, victim services organizations, and allied professionals—to enhance provision of victim assistance in the county. The project was first housed in the Red Cross building in Chillicothe and then relocated to another site to address visibility and accessibility concerns. Later it moved to the sheriff's office.
Project staff positions were filled by existing sheriff's office employees. Initially, a project director oversaw grant compliance and a victim advocate designed the project. By the second year, the victim advocate rotated off the project to fulfill other duties. The project gained a coordinator responsible for project implementation and finances and a victim liaison responsible for victim assistance, education, and outreach. Volunteers also helped implement the project (e.g., one developed a PowerPoint presentation on the project for educational purposes).
One of the first steps the sheriff's office took was to create a multidisciplinary, multiagency team to guide project planning and implementation and act as a referral network for victim services. Team membership grew as project staff built relationships with local organizations—by the end of the grant period, there were 17 member organizations. The team met monthly to discuss ideas, concerns, and upcoming events. It was involved in assessing community needs and gaps related to victim services. Needs assessment results led the project to go beyond its original goal of facilitating referrals and coordination of victim services to also promoting victims' rights and educating those who served victims on victimization issues and victims' rights. With the team's guidance, Project Unite did the following:
- Marketed its services through the use of billboard advertising and distribution of a project brochure at libraries, conferences, and local events.
- Created informational kiosks, consisting of a user-friendly, touch screen personal computer containing information on the project and local resources. The kiosks were moved periodically to different locations, such as hospital emergency rooms, schools, libraries, banks, and service agencies.
- Purchased a Palm Pilot, with the same information found on the kiosk installed—it was a useful resource for the victim liaison when she met with victims.
- Attended community meetings, conferences, fairs, and other events to provide outreach, education on victims' rights and project services, and assistance to crime victims.
- Instructed deputies on assisting victims and advising them of their rights; subsequently, deputies began providing victims with information on their rights and community resources during initial response.
- Offered trainings, including a victimology seminar for law enforcement, a victim advocacy seminar, and a diversity seminar cosponsored by the Child Protection Center.
- Incorporated information about victims' rights and the project into the county's Community Law Enforcement Academy, a free 7-week program that educated citizens on law enforcement policies.
- Collaborated with local agencies to provide outreach to residents and assist victims—for example, a project staff member worked at Child Protective Services 1 day a week to assist nonoffending parents of abused children and assisted victims during parole violation hearings at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) when an ODRC staff member was absent.
- Assisted 1,770 victims via telephone calls or in-person meetings between September 2003 and September 2004, and 2,750 victims between October 2004 and June 2006.
- Assisted an additional 51 children through the project's partnership with Child Protective Services.
- Developed a system for tracking victim assistance and followup.
The project has been well received in Ross County. It has also been highlighted throughout the state, most notably in the magazine of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association. At the end of the grant period, the sheriff's office funded a full-time victim advocate/public relations officer position filled by the project's victim liaison. Its Cell Watch Program provided supplemental funding to the project—helping victims who have no other means of compensation to replace locks, fix broken windows, or cover travel costs to court. The project coordinator completed a free grant-writing program to help obtain additional funds.