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Several police officers offered their testimony of the positive impact made by Heartland Victim Services during the organization’s

Several police officers offered their testimony of the positive impact made by Heartland Victim Services during the organization’s recruitment drive last week.

Sgt. Duncan Babchuk of the Stettler RCMP detachment said that Victim Services provides “invaluable assistance” to the police when they respond to calls.

“Without these people, it’s a tough job for us,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve seen lots of police officers retire because they can’t handle it.”

Corp. Cameron Russell said it’s crucial to have Victim Services to give victims and their families the attention they need when police need to focus on matters at hand.

“We can’t always be there for the victims,” he said. “They need someone to talk to . . . Obviously, it’s a really positive thing to have this for them.”

About 20 people showed up for the recruitment drive and open house, held at the Stettler Recreation Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

Program manager Pat Hamilton said the organization is in dire need of board members, with half a dozen vacancies to fill, and of front-line advocates, who respond to calls and work closely with victims.

She referred to Victim Services as the “best-kept secret in Stettler,” though the organization has been in operation for more than 15 years.

Most of the province’s rural Victim Services units are struggling to find new blood, she said, and the Stettler unit is no exception.

Apart from Hamilton, Victim Services in Stettler is staffed entirely by volunteers, although she said they are looking at hiring an associate program manager.

While victims of crime make up just over half of the unit’s clientele, associates also respond to other tragic events, including fires, floods, vehicle collisions and sudden deaths or suicides.

The unit is police-based but also assists other emergency services providers, including the hospital, ambulance and fire department.

Prospective front-line advocates must be over 18 years of age, must have a driver’s licence with a clean abstract, and must be a citizen, landed immigrant or legally entitled to work in Canada.

Over several months, they must undergo an interview process, followed by an extensive training program. A two-year commitment is required.

Hamilton said that advocates must also have compassion and empathy for victims, must be able to maintain confidentiality and must be available for on-call shifts, as well as monthly meetings with the rest of the unit.

Advocates will need to be comfortable working in a police environment. Being a team player is essential, as is the ability to tolerate black humour.

“We try to be appropriate at all times,” she said, “but sometimes you need an outlet.”

New advocates are paired up with experienced members to allow them to benefit from their expertise. Training is available, and recruits can benefit from the team atmosphere present in the unit.

“We try to make sure that we stay healthy, we look after each other and we have fun,” said Hamilton. “We try in every way to protect your wellbeing.”

Gord Lawlor, who has served as an advocate for 15 years, recalled that on one of his first calls, he found himself helping to redirect traffic as the STARS air ambulance responded to a serious highway rollover.

He said that most calls aren’t highly stressful or overly traumatic, adding that it’s dependent on circumstances and which advocates are available when a call is received.

In response to a question, Corp. Russell said that advocates could be called out to violent accidents, noting that with the ubiquity of cellphones and text messages, relatives of victims are arriving on the scene faster all the time.

Sgt. Babchuk said that the role of Victim Services is especially crucial right now as the detachment faces a staffing shortfall, following several transfers and departures.

“You make a positive impact on someone who is in a crisis,” said Hamilton. “At the end of the day, that’s very rewarding.”

For more information, contact Victim Services at 403-741-7841.