Minnesota: Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office
Mahnomen County, covering approximately 576 square miles with an average of nine persons per square mile, lies within the borders of the White Earth Ojibwe Reservation. There are 16 townships and no metropolitan areas. The estimated population of 5,072 (2006) is predominantly White (63 percent) and Native American (29 percent). Seven percent reported being two or more races. Native Americans live primarily in the eastern part of the county. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 12 percent have a college degree. The county is one of the state's poorest—16 percent of residents live in poverty—and has one of the state's highest crime rates. The Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office has 18 employees, with 17 sworn personnel.
The Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office began providing crime victim services in 1999 and experienced a considerable increase in numbers of victims seeking assistance from 2000 to 2002. To respond to this demand, the office used the OVC grant to expand existing victim services efforts and create a formal Victim-Witness Services Program based in the courthouse, in close proximity to the sheriff's office and other county agencies.
A project administrator was hired to implement the program. She surveyed crime victims and service providers to identify strengths and weaknesses in the community and criminal justice response to victims. The administrator almost immediately began assisting victims, streamlining the referral process, and expanding the types of services offered. She created a victim referral/crisis phone line and a Reverse Miranda card for deputies to give to victims. She met with deputies individually to introduce the program, gain insight into the needs of victims they encountered, and instruct them on providing information to victims and referring them to the program. She also trained five volunteers to assist with answering the crisis line, entering data in the computer, monitoring court hearings, and hosting information booths. The administrator estimated she provided direct services to 50 to 60 victims per month. A majority of victims served by the program were from the White Earth Ojibwe Tribe.
The administrator fostered partnerships with local service providers and county agencies to reduce duplication of services and use resources efficiently. She visited with staff of community and government agencies to introduce the program and attended community meetings designed to facilitate coordinated response to crime issues. She also did outreach to local businesses that interact with crime victims or offer services useful to them. Some outcomes of her efforts included the following:
- A local bus service established a voucher system for crime victims needing transportation.
- Two funeral homes offered information on healing to survivors of homicide with whom they interacted.
- A local sexual assault response team was developed and training was offered to first responders.
- A secure room for sexual assault victims awaiting court hearings was established.
- A new court procedure was established to assist individuals petitioning to dismiss existing orders for protection (OFP). Before an OFP is dismissed, the petitioner meets with the administrator to discuss the situation, the dynamics of domestic violence, and safety planning. The administrator then makes a recommendation to the court regarding the petition.
To raise community awareness of the Victim-Witness Services program, the administrator presented to community groups, participated in local events, and developed and disseminated materials. In addition to advertising on radio and in newspapers, she disseminated posters for National Crime Victims' Rights Week and placemats for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The program's reputation grew beyond the county. The administrator was contacted by several law enforcement agencies in the state that were interested in starting their own victim-witness services. She provided them with materials and encouraged their questions. Subsequently, representatives from five law enforcement victim-witness service programs formed a state Law Enforcement Victim Services Coalition. The administrator hosted the coalition's first meeting.
To support program continuance, the administrator gathered data using evaluations from victims who received services and feedback from crisis line callers that demonstrated program usefulness to victims and the agency, developed a slideshow highlighting the program, and drafted a description of her job to be included in the county's Policy Information and Record Manual. When the grant ended, her position was included in the county's budget. The administrator also pursued additional funding opportunities to help sustain the program.