County, city to lose victim service officer unless funds are found

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 17, 2007

The City of Luverne and Crenshaw County as a whole will be losing its Victim Service Officer unless new funding is found to pay for her position.

Janet Leigh Nichols, the victim service officer with the Luverne Police Department, is being paid with a pilot study grant that was implemented to see how well a victim service officer would work within the law enforcement departments. The grant runs out May 31 and will not be renewed.

Nichols, Mickey Powell, assistant chief of the Luverne Police Department, and Crenshaw County Chief Deputy Jimmy Lecroy addressed the Crenshaw County Commission and the Luverne City Council Monday asking for assistance and/or funds to keep Nichols' position in existence.

&#8220There is a big need in this county for domestic violence services,” Lecroy said. &#8220If you've ever been to a domestic violence scene, the law enforcement officer has his hands full with the aggressorŠ.we barely have time to attend to the victim. We get just enough information from the victim to build the case, and that leaves the victim with a lot of unmet needs.”

&#8220We have to tend to the aggressor,” Powell added. &#8220Victims have rights nowŠThey can take legal action against us if their rights are not upheld.”

According to Nichols, victims of domestic violence must be informed of their rights within 72 hours of an incident.

Crenshaw County Sheriff Charles West agreed with Powell and Lecroy at the commission meeting about the need for a victim service officer within the county.

&#8220Janet has done an excellent job,” West said. &#8220When you call her, she's there.”

Nichols said that she wanted to keep the program going.

&#8220We've come too far,” she said. &#8220I would hate to let the programs and the victims just drop now.”

Nichols added that the county was inundated with domestic violence victims, several of whom included children on the scene. Nichols presented the commission and the city council with backpacks she had put together for the children of domestic violence scenes, something that would help to calm the situation.

Lecroy said that West had restructured the personnel in the sheriff's office, and he had included a victim service officer to be placed there.

&#8220Janet has also been working with the Crenshaw County Domestic Violence Task Force, and since the Family Sunshine Center has pulled out, the need for her is even greater in the county,” Lecroy said.

When asked, Nichols reported that she was not as busy with cases within the city of Luverne, but that the county was &#8220extremely busy.”

&#8220We had 113 domestic violence cases last year alone within the county, and 80 of those led to arrests,” Lecroy said.

He told the council and the commission that if the sheriff's office could get a grant for Nichols' position, the county might need help with a 25 percent match. In this capacity, Nichols would serve as the victim service officer for each municipality within the county.

Crenshaw County Commission Chairman Ronnie Hudson said that the commission was behind Nichols 100 percent; however, &#8220we've just got to come up with the money,” he said. &#8220Let's see what we can work out with the citiesŠ..but, we can't make any promises.”

Luverne Mayor Joe Rex Sport echoed Hudson's comments.

&#8220We'd have to have assistance to fund it,” he said.

No formal action was taken by either the commission or the city council on this issue Monday.

The next Crenshaw County Commission meeting will be held Tuesday, May 29, at 6 p.m.