June 8, 2005 The two victim advocates recently hired by the V.I. Police Department are already providing services to victims' families in the territory, Commissioner Elton Lewis said Wednesday.
Leslye Webb, the St. Thomas district advocate, is working with the family of James R. Marrishow, the VIPD Special Operations Bureau officer who died unexpectedly June 1. Wednesday she was helping Marrishow's widow with next week's funeral arrangements.
Webb's counterpart at the St. Croix District, Ninafe Giron, is assisting the family of Winston Francis, who was shot and killed May 5 as he was leaving First Bank in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center with a large amount of cash. His assailants have not yet been apprehended.
Lewis said in a teleconference press briefing Wednesday that he and Giron "have met and sat down and talked with the Francis family." He stressed, "The main thrust of the program is to keep the lines of communication open every step of the way."
The commissioner said one of the first things he did upon taking office in 2003 was to conduct a needs analysis of the department. "We found that the lack of personnel in the Criminal Investigation Bureau was causing problems with the victims affected by crimes," Lewis said.
"The Bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases and wasn't able to give enough attention to people. We were being accused of being insensitive. We met with lots of families and asked what they would like to see."
The department's victim advocate program grew out of those meetings. It is funded under a federal grant for the first year. "And we hope that will continue," Lewis said.
This is a first for the VIPD, and Lewis says the two new advocates will have one big advantage over prior victim advocates supplied by not-for-profit agencies: "They will have the full resources of the Police Department, including legal advice." He also said the advocates have been "thoroughly vetted by the VIPD."
"It's not all hand holding," Webb said. "You have to determine what the person needs. Each case is different — a homicide, domestic violence, accidents.
Pointing to her head, Webb added, "Often the victims can't think for themselves in a situation. You have to determine what they need."
There is no way that two advocates could handle all the police work in the territory. Lewis said, with that in mind, the department will determine which cases to send the workers out on.
Cynthia Farmer, a victim advocate coordinator at the Family Resource Center, said Wednesday morning, "Our functions will be different [from Webb and Giron]. We will complement each other. I have known Leslye Webb for more than a year, and I have no problems. I wish her all the luck in the world. This is a good thing."
Farmer said the police advocates were "welcome" to take the agency's 13-week training course. She said, "It is open to any police officer, and we encourage them to take it."
Lewis, however, said he has arranged for Webb and Giron to take a course in the states. "We have identified a training course in the states, the top in the nation. It is the best we can afford."
Lewis said Webb and Giron would be taking the course very soon, although it isn't decided whether they will travel to the states or have a trainer come to the territory.
Although Webb and Giron have widely differing backgrounds, both seem well suited to their new roles as victim advocates. "Giron is a UVI senior in marketing and international affairs," Lewis said. "She is young, she is caring, and she is meticulous in her work." He complimented her on the work she has done with the Francis family. A Virgin Islander, Giron also has experience working with special-needs children at a day care center.
Likewise, Webb seems a perfect fit for her new job. A New York native, she worked for the U.S. Customs Service there, transferred to St. Thomas in 1988 and retired in 2001. She then worked as a court observer with the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council on St. Thomas until the council's grant ran out in 2003.
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