TAMPA, Fla. — We often hear about crimes happening in our area and the people who commit those crimes, but what about the people those crimes leave behind?
There are the victims directly impacted but also victims' family members and friends that can live with trauma and stress following a criminal incident.
In some cases, witnesses can also suffer long-term trauma after seeing a crime and having to give statements to investigators.
That's why the Tampa Police Department is hiring a victim advocate who will accompany officers when they respond to crimes that tend to be especially traumatizing such as sexual assaults, child abuse and homicides.
Police Chief Mary O'Connor said the department is looking for a caring and compassionate individual familiar with the criminal justice process.
"We come out, we investigate the crime, but victims and witnesses are kind of left not really understanding the process or they suffer from trauma, they have a lot of questions about the court process," she said.
The victim advocate could bridge the gap between resources and also help someone navigate the criminal justice process.
"It’s about the wellness of the community and community engagement," O'Connor said.
The department is also looking to expand its behavioral health unit by hiring additional clinicians who ride along with officers to provide crisis-oriented intervention.
"What we’re looking to do is take the police response out of it and instead provide case management help," the police chief addded.
These mental health professionals are critical in assessing the situation, de-escalating the environment and connecting people to necessary treatment.
Chief O'Connor said police officers want to help on every call but sometimes one's mental health needs are greater than an officer's capabilities.
The new positions are now open on Tampa.gov/jobs.
The St. Petersburg Police Department created a unit in February of 2021 aimed at creating a better response to mental health-related calls. The department saw a decrease in suicides since launching the program.