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Local agencies to attend meeting on crime victims services

Attorney General’s Office to divide state into six service regions

October 24, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer ( , Times-Republican

The Iowa Attorney General's Office is proposing an overhaul in the way those who aid crime victims provide service.

Throughout October, the Attorney General's Office will hold open meetings across the state where enforcement officials, victim advocates, legislators and the public can weigh in on the changes.

Due to budget constraints, the Crime Victims Assistance Division of Attorney General's Office in concert with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault is proposing splitting the state into six regions.

Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper said he will attend the meeting in Ames, Wednesday. And although he is not clear on the exact details of the plan, he said he is skeptical.

"My concern is that it is not going to benefit the people of Marshalltown," he said.

Tupper said if dividing victim services into regions delays service or provides a distance boundary, he would urge the Attorney General's Office to reconsider it.

Many victims the MPD serves already have issues with transportation and may be reluctant to accept help; adding distance and a lag in response time will add to those problems, Tupper said.

"If I investigate a sexual assault at 3 a.m., and the advocate is in Mason City, that is going to negatively impact that crime victim," he said. "These are generally critical and emergent circumstances it takes a lot of courage and fortitude on their part."

Over the past three fiscal years, the federal government has cut Iowa's Crime Victims Assistance Programs funding by 18 percent.

Tupper said funding woes are not lost on him and that deciding where to make cuts is never easy. But, if the program diminishes service availability and adds to transportation burden, he doesn't see how it will be a benefit.

According to the proposal, the Attorney General's Office believes the effort is proactive and will ensure better services instead of waiting for programs to collapse financially. Also, less overhead aims to allow for an increase in victim advocates across the state and fewer administrators.

The focus of the proposal is to decrease funding for shelters, which statistics show most victims do not use. And, according to the same statistics, the number has been trending down.

Dotti Thompson, executive director at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center (DVASAC), said she is also going to the Ames meeting to gather ideas on how to best put a plan in place to serve the region.

Many people are likely to have reservations, she said, mainly because of the shift in the way agencies are conducting services. With what is likely to be an influx of those in need of her agency's services, her biggest challenge will be determining how best to distribute service agents, especially since some of the counties in the newly formed region DVASAC has never had to serve.

A growing body of research suggests that focusing more on long-term housing for victims than on shelters does more to help those victims.

Luckily, Tupper said, since Marshalltown is likely to be one of the larger cities in the region, many services are likely to remain here.

The Attorney General's Office encourages agencies to seek community support for local programs.

Tupper agreed with that sentiment in part.

"You are more effective helping folks if you partner with agencies," he said. "But losing services because of regions - it will be a step backward."

The Ames meeting will take place 6 p.m. in the Myers Auditorium at the Mary Greeley Medical Center, 1111 Duff Drive.

For additional information, questions or comments contact Crime Victims Assistance Director Janelle Melohn or Victim Services Support Program Administrator Donna Phillips at 515-281-5044.



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