While the police force is spread ever thinner in the country’s fastest-growing municipality, the number of crime victims in need of counseling and other assistance continues to grow, a Gilbert volunteer coordinator said.
Calls to help crime victims in Gilbert have quadrupled in the past six years, and the Gilbert Police Department’s Victim Assistance Program is recruiting volunteers to lighten the load on an already overworked police force, program co-coordinator Sharon Taylor-Wood said Saturday.
Compared with 46 calls for victim assistance in 1996, the program’s volunteers responded to 204 calls and helped a total of 432 victims in 2002, Taylor-Wood said. The program’s volunteers provide counseling, domestic violence monitoring, crisis intervention and other services — but more are needed to keep up with Gilbert’s growth.
Taylor-Wood said she hopes to double the volunteer pool from the current 12 to 15 people to 25 to 30 to keep pace with the increasing demand. The actual number of volunteers varies at any given time because of high turnover.
Each volunteer must be on call for about 20 hours a month. The program provides an eight-day training program, spread out over eight weeks.
Volunteers must be 21 or older, good listeners and have an interest in helping others, Taylor-Wood said. A background check is also required.
Gilbert’s police coverage has fallen to less than one officer per 1,000 residents, compared with at least 1.45 officers per 1,000 residents in other East Valley cities.
Taylor-Wood said the Victim Assistance Program allows police to focus on crime prevention and investigation.
Gilbert resident Charlotte Sharp has been volunteeringfor four years and said she has responded to more than 30 calls.
"You’re a little nervous the first time you go," she said, "because you don’t know what to expect."
For more information about the program, call (480) 635-7700.