WESLACO, RGV – Federal funds are coming to the Rio Grande Valley to provide services and assistance to the victims of crime, to speed their recovery and aid them through the criminal justice system.
A news conference was held Wednesday at the offices of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council to announce that the LRGVDC, the official council of government (COG) for Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties, has been provided the funds.
The program is administered through the Texas Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Division – however the funding source is federal, authorized under the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) as amended.
LRGVDC provided a $36,000 match to a $174,000 federal grant to hire two regional crime victim liaisons for an initial 12-month period.
The regional crime victim liaisons will work in collaboration with numerous local law enforcement agencies in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy County alongside the RGV’s District Attorney offices.
Two regional crime victim liaisons have already been hired – Diana Almaguer and Nancy Gonzalez. They will ensure victims are afforded their rights during court proceedings, assisting in the notification process, scheduled court proceedings and other services needed throughout the criminal justice process.
Along with the hiring of the regional crime victim liaisons, LRGVDC’s goal is to start the first Regional Victim Assistance Academy in the region. The academy will include essential victim assistance training, focused on victim-centered service delivery and professional development that compliments other victim’s services initiatives and enables victim advocates to acquire baseline professional skills.
Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez spoke at the news conference and later gave an interview to the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.
“This is a big deal because, if I am correct, this is the first time something like that has taken place in the State of Texas, where the COG asked the Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Division for monies to have a program like this,” Rodriguez said.
“We got together, and we presented information to the Governor’s Office to help fill in the gaps when it comes to victims’ services. As a District Attorney, I have a responsibility by statute to represent and to give victims services. Law enforcement agencies also have a responsibility to have that crime victim liaison on board to help victims, by law, but because some of these municipal agencies, of which we have, I think, 26 in Hidalgo County, some do not have the resources, they don’t have the money for that crime victim liaison.”
Asked why the program is important, Rodriguez said: “This will be huge because victims will be able to get that information, that guidance that they need early on, instead of waiting four or five months for the case to make its way to the District Attorney’s office and we get hold of the victim.
“We have already been working with many municipal agencies. With this program we are going to be able to fill in the gap and provide the services to victims early on, instead of waiting until the case gets to our office.”
Rodriguez said plaudits should be given to the LRGVDC and the Governor’s Office. “It was important enough for the Governor to say, let’s do this. It is a much-needed service. Victims will have a voice to ensure they are represented properly.”