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When tragedy strikes, the Victim Assistance Unit is on the scene

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The New Westminster Police Department’s Victim Assistance Unit volunteers join officers as they attend the homes of people in the worst kind of crisis. Oftentimes, these volunteers meet with victims of crime or family members of someone who has died suddenly. While the police must do their jobs, the Victim Assistance Unit (VAU) volunteers see to the immediate emotional and practical needs of someone “on the worst day of their life.”

“The Victim Assistance Unit delivers a continuum of services to victims of crime and trauma 24-hours a day, 7 days a week thanks to the dedication of our incredible cadre of volunteers,” stated Sergeant Shari Gulliver. “Our volunteers are exposed to a variety of situations that may include crisis response and intervention, emotional support, safety planning, justice system information, and resource information for community agencies. The VAU volunteers will respond to an incident, whether that be at the hospital, the victim’s home, the police station or anywhere they are needed. Our volunteers selflessly dedicate their time to ensure the citizens of New Westminster are well taken care of.”

It was these kinds of interactions that led Josie, a retired Human Resources Manager by profession, to continue helping those in crisis, eventually leading her to have served nine hundred volunteer hours.

“Although the circumstances of the victims are often tragic, this is a unique volunteer opportunity that I have been able to contribute to for the betterment of the citizens of New Westminster. My volunteer colleagues and I are able to assist the dedicated police officers of the NWPD to carry out their responsibilities with the assurance that the victims are receiving the assistance they require,” she said.

Now VAU is looking to recruit more volunteers who have the wherewithal and heart to step up and help New Westminster residents as they go through trauma, even when the call for assistance comes in the evening hours.

“Police, emergency responders, and the coroner are called in and sometimes, because it’s so unexpected, people don’t know what happens next. People don’t know who to call, where they go, where to even start. That’s where we as volunteers come in and provide that emotional support and information,” Josie explains.

Once the immediate crisis has passed, the volunteers continue to offer services to their clients, helping them navigate the court process or writing victim impact statements that are considered by judges before issuing a sentence.

“The NWPD’s Victim Assistance Unit is an invaluable liaison between the police and the victims not only for the support they provide, but by providing access to information regarding their case and to help them understand what their rights are within the criminal justice process,” stated Corporal Jackie Frost. “Oftentimes police must deliver heartbreaking news to loved ones who have suffered a loss. Victim Assistance Unit volunteers will attend an incident to support people through the investigation process and provide needed support and information thereafter. VAU “bridges the gap” between what police do and what victims need.”

Those accepted into the VAU volunteer program go through both classroom and field training, but it is the natural communication and empathy skills that the recruiting team is seeking.

“There’s a certain kind of personality that victim services attracts because it’s not something that’s really out in the open,” stated Sergeant Shari Gulliver “It’s somebody who wants to do good, but behind the scenes.”

The program also draws people who want to build their resumes, as it helps people acquire skills and experience they may need to pursue a career in law enforcement or crisis counselling.

New Westminster Police Media Relations Officer Sergeant Jeff Scott said volunteers have become an indispensable part of the force. “When an officer has to focus on the duties of the investigation, and they can see there is a need for support, they call upon VAU. These amazing, committed volunteers then step in to be a support. I think it is impossible to overstate the value that these volunteers provide to the community,” he said.

Public Information Session for Victim Assistance Volunteering is being held on October 5, 2017 from 6:00pm-7:00pm, at the Justice Institute of BC, Auditorium.

To register for this event and learn more about New Westminster’s Victim Assistance Unit program, or to submit an application, contact VAU Caseworkers at 604-529-2525 or vau@nwpolice.org.

The deadline for applications is November 13, 2017.