New, grant-funded SAVSC begins training, service for domestic violence, sexual assault victims

Published 2:26 am Saturday, January 28, 2017

Training has been the focus of a new two-county effort, South Alabama Victim Services Collaborative (SAVSC), to provide better services to victims and survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Chief Paul Hudson

Chief Paul Hudson

In September, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women approved $450,000 in funding for the Andalusia Police Department over a three-year period.

APD Chief Paul Hudson said Friday that staff members hired through this program have been providing services since Jan. 1, but completed more than 100 hours of training before they started.

The department partnered with Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., which is managing the grant through its adult services division. YAP is a non-profit organization founded in1975 that provides non-residential, community-based programs in 17 states.

Carla Powell of YAP has hired Amanda Hart as victims’ services coordinator, and Stephanie Fore in Covington County and Ellen Shirley in Butler County provide part-time advocacy services.

Powell, Hart and Officer Chris Byrd participated in three days of training this week in Alexandria, Va.

“Our timeline was to start services on Jan. 1,” Hudson said. “We were ready, and we did.”

The new program has established protocols with which to handle domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

“Depending on the severity of the case, an office will either give the victim a referral phone number to call, or the officer can call a supervisor to make contact with the advocate and let them decide if they need to come to the scene.

“If it is a felony arrest, they will automatically be called to the scene,” Hudson said.

Under new domestic violence laws in the state, domestic violence, assault II, could be a felony, Hudson said. Rape is also a felony, but some sex cases are misdemeanors.

Even as the advocate system is being implemented, training is scheduled for every officer in the participating law enforcement agencies for March.

“Lt. Steve Searcy, a retired law enforcement officer, will provide training for our law enforcement officer, advisory council members, and first responders who are interested,” he said. “We are excited to be able to offer this training.”

The eight-hour class will count toward the annual requirement for continuing education among officers.

“This is to help departments improve their response to these cases,” he said.

Other departments participating in the South Alabama Victim Services Collaborative include the Opp, Florala, Georgiana, Greenville and McKenzie police departments, as well as the sheriff’s departments in Covington and Butler counties.

Hudson said that Covington County’s smaller departments are staffed by members of the sheriff’s department, and will have access to the training through their work there.