By RACHAEL LONG
When the unthinkable happens and you or a loved one becomes the victim of a crime, understanding what comes next can be overwhelming.
That’s where Amy Crossland comes in. She’s the Brentwood Police Department’s (BPD) volunteer victim advocate and a trained social worker who can “provide another level of support” to families who have been victims of crime.
Crossland is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Lipscomb University in Nashville, and before that, she worked in the District Attorney’s office as an assistant victim witness coordinator. She earned her master’s degree in social work and has a victim advocate credential through the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
It was through her work with the District Attorney that Crossland said she got to know Brentwood police officers. When she left the DA to teach, Crossland said the BPD kept in touch and eventually asked if she would be willing to come aboard in a support role as a volunteer for crime victims.
“I said, ‘Yes, absolutely. I would love to do that,’” Crossland said.
The process is pretty simple. Crossland said the officers give families the information about victim support, and then she makes a follow up call to the family, usually a few days after the incident has taken place. Crossland asks if she can help connect the victims to counseling or other resources, or simply answer any questions they may have.
Sometimes, people decline the offer for support, and Crossland says that’s where a majority of cases end. In those situations, Crossland says she doesn’t call again.
But some are very receptive, and she said it is up to the family how long she stays in contact with them. In one case, Crossland said she supported a family through a kidnapping case from a few days after the incident all the way through sentencing.
In some situations, officers have asked Crossland to come along when they have to deliver difficult news, and she’s even aided the FBI’s victim specialist. Most typically, though, she makes follow up phone calls, provides connections to counseling or other resources, and helps educate the family about what happens next.
“Just knowing what’s coming next makes it less threatening, less scary,” Crossland said. “I see it as empowering and supporting, but also just educating and providing information.”
She even checks in on officers.
“They have a lot on their plate in one scene, and they go to five or six scenes in a matter of a couple of hours. And they’re still men and women who have spouses and children,” Crossland said. “I think the officers are better when they have a chance to process and be reminded that they’re human, so that they can be more present with victims.”
One area Crossland tries to pay close attention to are the calls that don’t end in an arrest.
When police make an arrest, Crossland said the victims have access to support through the DA’s office. But if no arrest is made — either because there wasn’t enough evidence or the call was responding to a situation that doesn’t break the law, such as suicide ideation — then Crossland said those families may not have access to that support person.
“If there’s not someone like me saying, ‘Hey, here’s some counseling resources, here are some options you have at this point,’ then those people might not ever know,” Crossland said. “Those are more of the [cases] that I’ve been focusing on more recently.”
While it’s not always easy, Crossland says helping people through the “worst seasons of their lives” is her passion. The desire for social work, she says, comes from wanting to help and support people.
Her passion for the criminal justice system and working with victims, she said, stems from an internship with the DA’s office in Nashville that she did as an undergraduate student at Lipscomb University. During that time, she worked in the juvenile court system.
The most difficult part, she says, is always wishing she could do more for families.
“It’s always hard when you have to talk to somebody that has lost a loved one or has been the victim of a sexual assault,” Crossland said. “To know that people are experiencing that is really hard. I think that’s what makes me so passionate about it, though…I’m glad to be able to be there in the aftermath of that.”
While the role of a victim advocate can be crucial to helping victim families heal, Crossland says it’s not common for police departments in the Middle Tennessee area to have someone on staff designated specifically for victim advocacy.
“We have amazing, amazing officers in Brentwood. I can’t say enough good things about them,” Crossland said. “I’m just grateful to the police department, because I feel very supported.”
While it’s still just an idea, Crossland says the program may soon look for ways to be more involved and provide additional support.
April 7-13 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Awareness week. For more information about the victim rights and advocacy program through the BPD, or how to contact Crossland, visit the city website here.