Washington County Sheriff's Office
Washington County is located in southeastern Alabama, covering 1,081 square miles with 17 people per square mile. About 88 percent of the land is forests and pine plantations. Towns include Chatom, McIntosh, and Millry, and unincorporated municipalities include Leroy and Fruitdale. Chatom, the county seat, is about 60 miles north of Mobile. The estimated county population of 17,651 (2006) is predominantly White (66 percent), Black (26 percent), and Native American (7 percent). Logging, farming, and chemical factories are the main industries. The median income is $32,147, and 18 percent of individuals live in poverty. Of residents age 25 and over, 9 percent have a college degree. The Washington County Sheriff's Office has 15 sworn personnel and answers calls to all rural parts of the county, as well as those that can't be handled by local town police departments.
Through the OVC grant, the Washington County Sheriff's Office created a Victim Service Program with the goal of consistently providing aid to crime victims throughout the county. A particular focus of the project was domestic violence, as reports of this crime doubled from 2000 to 2006, and there were very limited services for victims locally. The closest domestic violence shelter was 80 miles away in Mobile. The initiative had the support of police departments in the county. The sheriff's office hired a consultant to oversee a community needs assessment, using written and telephone surveys to learn about victims' experiences with crime and the criminal justice system. Based on the results of the needs assessment, the sheriff's office implemented the following activities:
- A civilian victim services officer (VSO) was hired in the grant's second year. She spent considerable time early in her tenure gaining support for the program from criminal justice and community agencies.
- The VSO provided information to the community regarding the program via newspaper interviews and articles. She created a victims' rights brochure with data on county services and space for the responding deputy's contact information. Deputies were asked to provide the brochure to victims they encountered. The VSO also placed brochures in public places such as medical clinics and city offices.
- The VSO established phone, fax, and Internet service for the program. She provided victims who contacted her with support and referrals to local and regional agencies based on their individual needs. She provided 911 cell phones to those interested. She also met with victims attending district and municipal court proceedings and assisted them through the judicial process. A VSO in the district attorney's office assisted victims in circuit court cases.
- The VSO worked with a licensed professional counselor to offer free counseling services to crime victims, with the sheriff's office covering the costs; only a few individuals took advantage of this service, due in part to concerns about confidentiality.
During her year and a half on the job, the VSO worked with more than 70 victims and distributed more than 480 brochures. Despite the generally positive feedback from victims regarding services received, the sheriff's office was not able to secure additional funding from the county commission and discontinued the program.