Assistant City Editor
The hard work of the Waco Police Department Victim Services Unit paid off when they recently won a national award.
The Waco Police Department Victim Services Unit is the International Association of Chiefs of Police 2012 Medium Agency Winner for Police Departments in the country. An award for each agency size — small, medium and large, which is based on the number of sworn officers within the police department — is given out each year.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police and LogInInc. announced the awards Friday. The association will present the awards Monday at the association’s 119th annual conference in San Diego.
The association is a nonprofit membership organization of police executives with more than 20,000 members in 100 countries.
The Waco Victims Services Unit, which was established in 1994, helps victims, their family members and witnesses of crimes by establishing a continuous relationship with them through the recovery process, said Melissa Beseda, director of the Waco Victim Services Unit.
The Waco Victims Services Unit is the only unit of its kind in Central Texas. The agency has 46 volunteers and two staff members and is available 24/7.
“We are not just one unit,” Beseda said. “We work with about 50 different agencies.”
Beseda also said the unit responds to needs all over Texas.
“We help victims and witnesses,” Beseda said. “We help calm them down and explain how the investigation process works. For example, why the crime tape is up, or how the autopsy process works.”
Beseda said the unit also helps with medical bills for victims of crime, relocation for people or victims involved in criminal investigations and funerals. She said the money for these efforts comes from a fund for restitution paid by prisoners.
“We are not in uniform and we are not as intimidating,” Beseda said. “We are the human side of law enforcement.”
Beseda said the unit educates communities about its services so that people can know the unit is available, speaking at churches, McLennan Community College, Tarleton State University and other locations.
Christina Horst, project manager of the Leading by Legacy Program and staff liaison at the association, wrote in an email to the Lariat this year is the fifth year of the Excellence in Victim Services Award program.
“The judges evaluate and score each submission based on the following categories: leadership, partnerships, efficacy, training, performance monitoring, innovation and integration,” Horst said.
The unit, which applied for the award in May, had to submit an application that included the a 10-page paper written by members of the unit. The papers are about the help and services the unit provided to communities for the year of 2011. They are reviewed by a committee of judges.
“We are extremely proud of it,” Beseda said. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the Victim Services Unit.”
Beseda said there are several accomplishments that the unit listed in the paper.
394 call outs or on-scene responses by the unit in 2011.
In addition, the unit volunteers worked 12,529 hours, which saved the department $267,624.78.
Beseda said the unit also assisted 1,123 victims in Waco and McLennan County in 2011.
Waco Police Department Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said the Victim Services Unit is a huge help during investigations.
“It benefits us so much to have them because we can concentrate on what we need to do law enforcement wise,” Swanton said.
Police officers, while not cold or callous, must focus on their cases and not get emotionally involved, he said.
“It’s hard to wear both those hats feeling and law enforcement,” Swanton said. “It’s instrumental for us to have them to be able to come out and assist us on scenes.”