TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Travis County Sheriff’s Office is looking for volunteers to join its victim services unit.
The unit has responded to an increased number of calls since 2011, and on Friday, representatives said they could use as many as 65 additional volunteers to provide immediate assistance to victims of various criminal and crisis circumstances. There are currently 35 victim services volunteers.
“Our unit is on-call 24 hours a day and so, we need help responding to the increase of calls,” explained Heather Dooley, the social services program coordinator for the victim services unit at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. “We want to be able to respond quickly to any request that we get. We want to make sure that we are readily available in all parts of Travis County.”
In 2011, the victim services unit had 621 on-call requests. In 2012, there were 613 and in 2013, 679 on-call requests were made. In 2014, the unit responded to 711 calls; 843 calls in 2015; 911 in 2016, and the first six months of this year, the unit has already had 782 on-call requests.
The unit wants to make sure they leave no victim without these important services.
“We are encountering people on what is usually one of the worst days of their lives, and so, we want to make sure that there is someone there that is solely focused on them,” said Dooley. “Our deputies do a wonderful job in their role. Our detectives do a wonderful job in their role. But, oftentimes, they are not able to focus all of their attention on our victims. It’s crucial that they have someone there that is only there for them, that is really looking at the totality of the circumstances, can help them understand what’s going on on that scene, and also, what’s likely to happen in the next days, weeks, months, after this event.”
Volunteers respond to victims of family and domestic violence, aggravated assaults, sexual assaults, robberies and/or burglaries, child or elder abuse, structure fires, death notifications, major crashes and natural or accidental deaths that occur within Travis County.
David Holmes has been a volunteer for the unit for about two years.
“I would watch the news and see what people are going through in their daily life — there’s a point at which you kind of start feeling helpless about seeing all of these things that people are going through,” explained Holmes. “Here’s an opportunity where I can try to help make their really bad day a little less bad by being there in the moment and try to help them attain the services they need.”
Holmes says he felt prepared before going out on his first independent call.
“There are scenarios I never could have imagined myself being a part of, but the training the sheriff’s department gives you is so good and so well prepares you for the scope of different kinds of calls that you may go on.”
After the initial training, volunteers respond to calls as a shadow of staff on scene, and/or veteran volunteers until new volunteers are prepared to assist independently.
Holmes says the experience has taught him about law enforcement and our community, and has given him a sense of perspective.
“Just as soon as you’re feeling like you’re having a really bad day and then you go on one of these calls and see that someone else is having a much tougher day than you are, it pulls you out of your own situation,” said Holmes.
Volunteers must be 21 years of age or older, should have a reliable vehicle and a working cell phone. Volunteers are asked to commit one year to the program.
The unit is still accepting applications for the volunteer positions. The deadline for is Aug. 31. The next training class starts on Sept. 11 and goes for three weeks.
Visit the Travis County Sheriff’s Office’s website to download an application to become a volunteer.