Megan Rule | Staff Writer
Local residents and students can spend service time volunteering with the Victim Services Academy, a unit of the Waco Police Department that is currently looking for volunteers.
“The Victim Services Unit has been in place for a number of years now and is an instrumental part of providing service,” Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, Waco Police Department spokesperson, said. “They assist officers and citizens by providing service that can be overlooked by officers and offer the emotional value.”
Tami Parsons, victim services volunteer coordinator, said the unit started in 1994 to take the pressure off officers when a victim at a scene is upset so the officers can do their investigation. Victim Services explains what the officers are doing at the scene why they’re doing it and answers any questions that victims may have so officers don’t have to stop their investigation. According to the website, staff is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s very rewarding knowing that I’ve helped somebody,” Parsons said. “Usually when we get called out, it’s not in a good situation. It’s going to be someone’s worst day; they’re in crisis mode. Knowing that I’m able to help somebody during possibly the worst time of their life to me is very rewarding.”
Volunteers do essentially the same work as the crisis team, but they don’t get paid for it, Parsons said. Volunteers will be required to have a background check and go through a four week academy that takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Waco Police Department training room, according to the organization’s flyer. Different units are brought in such as crime scene, special crimes, family unit, advocacy center and the family abuse center. These units talk to the new volunteers going through the academy about how the victim services unit works in conjunction with theirs.
Once the academy is over, there is a ceremony where the graduate is presented with a certificate. Volunteers can start signing up as a partner to a leader, someone who has been with the unit longer. Volunteers go with their leader to a crime scene for about three months before going to scenes on their own. Volunteers will cover four shifts a month on nights and weekends and can pick any shift that works with their schedule. The shifts are 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday, as well as four various times Saturday and five various shifts Sunday.
“The different types of calls we get are questionable death, either homicide, suicide or natural, and a lot of times we get natural death calls where it’s unexpected and the family is very upset,” Parsons said. “We also get aggravated robberies, sexual assault, domestic violence, death notifications, drowning, basically all the bad and sad stuff.”
Swanton said the goal of the officers is geared toward the law enforcement side whereas victim services helps on the emotional side of victims in a crime scene. They provide an outlet for victims to talk to and someone they can follow up with. The officers may be done collecting photos and clues from a crime scene, but the victim services advocates can follow up and check in after officers are done with the search.
“The police department is proud of the work and service that victim services provides, and we’re proud that they’re part of our team,” Swanton said.
Victim Services Academy also offers internships for volunteers. More details about that, and any other questions related to volunteering, can be directed to Parsons at email@example.com or 254-750-7525.