Municipal officials have received a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to start a crime victims assistant program at the Paterson Police Department.
Funds will be used to hire a full-time victim witness advocate and a part-time assistant. Their mission will be to support victims through the justice process and provide social service referrals.
Victims of assault, sexual assault, domestic violence, and other crimes can rely on the victim witness advocate for advice, resources, and even accompaniment to court, said officials.
“You’re really traumatized after one of these crimes. You’re overwhelmed, and you need someone to give you guidance,” said mayor Andre Sayegh outside the Frank X. Graves Public Safety Complex in announcing the program. He pointed out Paterson is the sole municipality in New Jersey to receive the grant.
The victim witness advocate could connect the victims with temporary housing, advice on navigating the criminal justice system, referral for childcare and elder care, security services, medical services, and emergency transportation.
“Survivors of domestic violence are left without housing, a job, a trusted confidant — they desperately need help and support,” added congressman Bill Pascrell. He said many domestic violence complaints are withdrawn because the victim is afraid.
Public safety director Jerry Speziale said the staff for the program will likely be hired in two months. He said the victim witness advocate will be paid $70,000 and the part-time assistant will be paid $18 an hour for 20 hours a week. He said grant will cover the program’s expenses for three years.
Speziale said the staff will have a “fluid schedule.” He said the Paterson program will supplement the services provided by Office of Victim Advocacy at the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.
The victim witness advocate will collaborate with Joan Nixon, coordinator for the Office of Victim Advocacy at the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. Office of Victim Advocacy provides services primarily in cases where prosecution is pending or anticipate at the Passaic County Superior Court. It does not serve victims who are involved in cases at the municipal court. Paterson’s crime victims assistant program will be able to assist victims in cases that are in the municipal court.
“We can drastically benefit from having somebody who’s dedicated to members of our community here in the city of Paterson,” said police sergeant Todd Pearl.
Assisting the victims also increases the likelihood of cooperation from them in prosecuting the perpetrators.
“These are the programs that are working, and we want to be part of that. [It’s] cutting edge,” said Speziale. He said the Passaic County program has been “extremely” successful. “This grant is really about building trust and legitimacy with the victims and the community that we serve.”
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