The Waco Police Department is launching a training academy for anyone interested in becoming a victim services volunteer.
Volunteers provide everything from information to transportation to emotional support for victims of crimes, including children.
Melissa Beseda, director of victim services for the department, said after family violence or a homicide, volunteers play a key role. She said COVID-19 forced the department to cancel some planned trainings, and the program currently has only 12 volunteers as a result.
“Some of our volunteers had health concerns and stepped off, so we have a pretty small team right now, but we haven’t skipped a beat,” Beseda said.
Volunteers must pass a background check, and no one with a criminal history may join.
During training, officers from different units will present to volunteers on different topics, such as suicide, family violence, homicide, crisis interviews and sexual assault. Volunteers will also learn how to give bad news, such as death notifications. A representative from the Family Violence Center will also be present.
“We have [detectives] come and give examples of what works, what you can really talk to victims about so they can understand the process of the investigation,” Beseda said.
Training lasts 35 hours and includes one ride-along with a police officer.
After training, new volunteers will partner with more experienced volunteers for shifts.
“They get contacted by dispatch, and they get told the address, the type of call, what’s needed and they respond to that crime scene and assist the victims,” Beseda said.
Beseda said volunteers can provide transportation, take temporary custody of children during Child Protective Services investigations, and help victims of domestic violence make plans to go somewhere safe.
“A lot of times I describe what we do as educating, because education builds confidence,” Beseda said. “[We’re] going out on a crime scene and walking a victim through the process. That builds confidence for them to know what they’re walking into, because it’s a scary time.”
Applications are due Feb. 5 and the training will run from Feb. 15 to Feb. 24. Classes are held Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The dates may change due to COVID-19.
Applications can be found online at https://bit.ly/2LpiH1J.
Beseda can be reached at 254-750-7526 or email@example.com. Volunteer coordinator Missy Sparks can be reached at 254-750-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and crime victim compensation specialist Isabel King can be reached at 254-750-7525 or email@example.com.
Editor’s note: A portion of this story appearad in Tuesday’s Tribune-Herald.