Representatives from the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, Heflin, Oxford and Piedmont police departments as well as Assistant District Attorney Eric Snyder attended the meeting.
Not many Cleburne County victims of sexual and domestic violence make their way to 2nd Chance, said Trace Fleming-Smith, a victim’s advocate for the organization.
“My hope is that with more encouragement, we’ll start seeing more people,” she said.
2nd Chance serves Calhoun, Cleburne, Cherokee, Etowah, Talladega and Randolph counties. Particularly Calhoun and Cleburne counties share a lot of resources, Fleming-Smith said.
“We share the same district attorney. We share the same rape crisis center,” she said. “It just makes sense that we work together more often.”
People in Calhoun County tend to be very knowledgeable about the services available to them, but less so in Cleburne County, she said.
The team has been in existence for less than a year and it has been interesting, Fleming-Smith said. For instance at this meeting, she learned the police departments would like to have quicker turn-around on the evidence collected in rape kits. They also requested more training on using the kits. As a member of the Alabama Coalition Against Sexual Violence, that’s something she can help with, Fleming-Smith said.
She said she will take the requests back to the coalition and arrange the training, she said. In addition, the coalition can lobby for quicker processing of the rape kits at the state level, she added.
This team approach can help smooth the relationship between county agencies working together to help victims, Snyder said.
“It helps coordinate all the local agencies,” Snyder said. “It keeps us networked together.”
It can help law enforcement officers get extra training, said Heflin police Chief A.J. Benefield. For instance, there are new laws on elder abuse about which 2nd Chance is organizing training for police officers.
Benefield said this is the first team meeting he’s attended, but that Heflin officers have taken advantage of the training opportunities organized by the team in the past, including one dealing with sexual assault victims.
“Almost our whole department was there for that training,” Benefield said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Fleming-Smith said that 2nd Chance has been very busy in October.
“The shelter’s been completely full. It’s completely full right now,” she said. “We’ve had to start bringing out roll-out beds and people sleeping on couches.”
They’ve also taken on 20 new victims of sexual assault and performed 11 sexual-assault exams, Fleming-Smith said.
She told the members the shelter is starting a new healing support group using a variety of methods for self-expression including poetry, tai chi, yoga and belly dancing.
Benefield offered to help 2nd Chance bring an educational safe-dating program to the school system in Cleburne County.
Fleming-Smith also informed the officers that Second Chance received a grant that will allow them to hire an elder-abuse victim advocate, she said.
“We’re going to have training for law enforcement in particular, but then also for DAs, judges and some other folks,” Fleming-Smith said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.