Local News

April 21, 2010

County marks Crime Victims' Rights Week

DALTON — A home invasion. Window broken where a female is home alone. Man tries to steal her TV. Woman has gun, struggles with burglar, is shot.

Another crime victim, yet another person for Brenda Hoffmeyer and the staff of the Victim/Witness Assistance Program to help.

“So what will I do?” Hoffmeyer asks. “The case is coming in; no warrant’s been taken. Oftentimes you will never get an arrest, even in homicides. You may not get an arrest, but we still deal with the victim and we can still file for compensation.”

The Victim/Witness Assistance Program aims to help victims of crimes make it through the ordeal of being dragged into a situation that was often not their doing.

“You do not have to have an arrest or know who the perpetrator is to assist the victim,” Hoffmeyer said. “So even not knowing who the victim is, this afternoon I will call and get the information about our program to her, find out what we need to do for her, if there’s anything she needs.”

Hoffmeyer will call her connections about crime scene cleanup.

“The victim may want to get the window replaced and they can bring me a receipt and we will file that with Victim Compensation,” a program funded mostly by fines from federal and local prisoners that helps reimburse crime victims for their losses.

“I’ll also try to set her up for therapy, bring her into our office and talk to her about the system and what we’re going to do,” Hoffmeyer said. “I’ll tell her who her advocate is who will be working with her and from now on, she will be one of our cases and we’ll begin to work with her, even though the DA doesn’t have a case yet.”

The program is always there, waiting to help victims of crime.

“Law enforcement calls us all the time, says we haven’t made an arrest yet, her son was murdered, can you talk to her?” Hoffmeyer said. “And from that point on, she’s one of our cases and we’ll talk to her and keep her updated. On homicides, Kermit (McManus, the district attorney) and I sit down with the families and explain the system, talk to them all the way through the case and keep them updated.”

Even when the case is over, the program follows through and sends information to the judge for the sentencing, to the Parole Board.

The program is taking part in National Crime Victims’ Rights Week April 18-24.

“All of the members of the Parole Board and their staff will be here in Dalton for a day for Parole Visitors Day,” Hoffmeyer said. “We have 178 open victim cases in the system that we are dealing with. We’ll send out letters to all these victims and tell them the Parole Board will be here. The Parole Board will come and bring their case files, and those victims can schedule appointments and come in and meet with a member of the Parole Board about the case and tell them how the crime affected them. All this information goes into what they call the protest part of the file. So when this criminal comes up for parole, the board has that victim input.”

Hoffmeyer said the Parole Board visited here about five years ago, and nearly 100 victims showed up. “We started at 8 that morning and went until 9 that night, and the Parole Board stayed with them until they got through with the last one,” she said. “Every victim had a chance to meet with the Parole Board and talk to them about their case. It’s very important that a victim do that, that they are able to put a face with someone down at the Parole Board.”

Hoffmeyer says the Parole Board has an automated notification program called the Victim Information Program. Victims can apply for a password and are able to find out the location of the inmate 24 hours a day.

“That’s very important” for peace of mind, she said. “I used to get calls at home from families who would say, ‘My daughter thought she saw him (the criminal) at the grocery store and now she won’t come out of the house.’ Back then if this was over the weekend, I couldn’t find out anything until Monday morning. Now the victims can pick up the phone and put their passcode in and find out is he in or is he out?”

The board also will automatically call a victim if an inmate dies or is transferred or escapes.

“It’s a really good system for victims,” Hoffmeyer said.

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