On Monday, in the span of less than 24 hours, two domestic violence-related incidents turned fatal. In northeast Harris County, a mother was preparing her three children for their first day of school when her estranged husband showed up at her home and attacked her. He was killed during the attack. Later that evening, a woman’s brother and her ex-boyfriend got into a fight that escalated into a shooting at an apartment complex on Cypress Station.
Our deputies are entrusted by our community to protect them. At the Sheriff’s Office, we take seriously our duty to help those who are being hurt by someone who is supposed to love them.
We thoroughly investigate cases of abuse and assist victims in navigating the aftermath of a crime and the criminal justice process.
In 2017, we launched our Victim Assistance Unit to support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This specialized unit assesses a victim’s needs and provides immediate crisis intervention, working collaboratively with our domestic violence partners in the community to find emergency shelter, legal resources, and other critical services that help victims on their journey to become survivors. From January to July of this year, our advocates served 670 victims and placed 2,535 calls to victims to offer our services. In 2020, our advocates reached out to 5,802 victims and served 1,308.
“Victims want to know what’s going on and where to get help,” said Sgt. Hulsey, who oversees the team of victim advocates. “They want to know about the progress of their case. They want to know about the status of the suspected abuser.”
Addressing a person’s emotional needs is always the first step, said Melissa Ramirez, a victim advocate assigned to Patrol District 3 in east Harris County. From there, advocates are able to walk victims through the next steps.
“The help spans from obtaining a protective order and trauma counseling to plugging them into emergency housing and utility assistance,” Ramirez said. “We also help victims connect with pro-bono divorce attorneys and offset the cost of funeral arrangements.”
In 2019, we launched a multi-disciplinary program called the Sheriff’s Mobile Advocacy Response Team, or SMART, to amplify our efforts in reducing domestic violence and sexual assaults. A deputy investigator is paired with a violent crime advocate. The pair respond to active scenes across Harris County.
Our agency is also part of the Harris County Domestic Violence High-Risk Team, a group of regional public safety partners that review cases that are most at risk for homicide. They then close gaps in service and protection.
“We actively monitor calls for service, proactively search our databases for repeat calls for service and victimization and take on referral cases from our Domestic Violence Unit,” said Deputy Investigator Mook. “We are often the first support system for abuse victims.”
He added, “Our job, and really mission, is to get victims the resources they need immediately. Not tomorrow, not week, not next month. We are out in the field establishing relationships with them and talking them through everything. In many ways, we’re the liaison between our frontline personnel and the victim. We are their go-to person for every step in their case and the path to a safer life.”
When our patrol deputies arrive on a scene, they are assessing the incident and making quick determinations about which agency assets to deploy. Beyond securing the crime scene, determining what happened, and collecting evidence to support the investigation, our first responders are thinking about addressing the needs of victims and their families.
Our Victim Assistance Unit team members work their regular jobs within the unit but are also on call to respond to active scenes as needed. SMART teammates work around the clock on the weekends when the need is the greatest.
We see this experienced team focused on serving victims as a valuable component of our agency’s overall response efforts. Their training and backgrounds are as important to the incident as the other specialized units.
If you want to report abuse, reach out to our Victim Assistance Line at 713-274-9369 or find a victim advocate in your patrol district here. For more information about victim resources, click here to download our brochure.
During this challenging time, many victims may feel compelled to cling to their homes and family. But no one should feel obligated to remain in an abusive relationship of any form.
This type of violence was a public crisis long before the pandemic and is believed to be an underreported crime. There have been 73 murders since January – 19 of those murders were family violence related. And several other homicides involving domestic violence have been referred to a grand jury.
As a community, we can keep an eye out for potential victims and pay attention to whether a situation seems dangerous for a neighbor, friend, or family member. When you suspect something is happening, trust your instincts and say something.
We encourage victims to come to us for assistance or to reach out to one of the many organizations in our region whose mission is to end domestic and sexual violence for all. We are here for you.