DA Adds New Officers


District Attorney Mike O’Dell announced recently the hiring of two new Victims Service Officers for the Ninth Circuit. “We have been very blessed to be able to add two full-time Victim Service Officers to our office staff,” O’Dell stated. “We are now able to assign one to each county, (DeKalb and Cherokee), in order to be able to serve the needs of each particular county. I am very excited that we will, finally, be able to provide a full range of victims’ services to our communities.”
The hiring comes as a result of a $6.3 million dollar state grant announced by Governor Kay Ivey in December, 2018. This grant allows Alabama District Attorneys to hire 88 Certified Victim Service Officers across the state. The grant was made possible by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Each of the 88 VSOs will work directly out of the local District Attorney’s Offices.
“The criminal justice system can seem intimidating to people who have been victims of crime,” Governor Kay Ivey said in announcing the grant. “I am pleased to support this program, which will provide knowledgeable professionals to help crime victims understand the court process and ensure that victims are aware of other community resources that may further assist them.”
“This grant is a major benefit for victims, victims’ families and district attorneys across Alabama,” O’Dell stated. “With budget reductions over the past ten years we have seen layoffs in personnel and a loss in financial resources available for victim services. Thus, the need to provide essential services to our victims has not been met like I would have hoped and wanted. The previous VSO position was primarily a ‘part-time’ position being an add-on responsibility to an already overworked staff member. Additionally, these employees had little, if any, training in providing these services. This grant provides much needed training and equipment to help facilitate the carrying-out of the VSO responsibilities.”
“In most DA Offices across the state money for victim assistance has been especially tight, and helping victims has taken a back seat to the prosecution process,” O’Dell pointed out. “We have all regretted this situation, and we joined forces with ADECA and the Governor’s Office to successfully resolve this inadequacy. We identified providing more direct and effective services to victims as a priority in our offices. This grant is a real game-changer for DAs across the state. Now, many more victims of crime and their families will have someone in the DA’s Office to both comfort them and assist them through the process of obtaining justice. I am extremely grateful to Governor Ivey, ADECA, and the District Attorneys Association for assisting in making this grant possible.”
O’Dell explained that these new VSO employees will be Certified Victim Service Officers meaning that they have received intensive initial training in providing these services, enabling them to work directly with victims of crime and their families in cases such as homicides, rapes, assaults, child abuse, robbery, domestic violence, and property crimes. They have been trained, and will continue to receive on-going training, in assisting victims in acquiring counseling, provide information about their rights and resources, communicate with and comfort victims, and assist them through the often difficult judicial process.
“No one chooses to be a victim of crime,” O’Dell pointed out. “Through criminal and often violent acts of others, victims are forced into a vast and intimidating criminal justice system. District Attorneys, though challenged by meager resources, have long tried to do the best they could. With tens of thousands of felonies a year, it has proven daunting. An increase in violent crimes in recent years has meant there is an increased need for victim assistance.”
“This groundbreaking partnership with the Governor, ADECA, and the District Attorneys across Alabama is a model for the nation,” O’Dell stated. “My hope and prayer is that, with the efforts of our new Certified VSOs, we will be able to ease the pain and anxiety caused by crime, while providing needed comfort, information and guidance to victims as they navigate through the criminal justice system.”
The two new Certified Victim Service Officers are Abbey Dawson (Cherokee Office) and Sherri Stewart (DeKalb Office).