Volunteer victim advocates assist Taylorsville residents during most harrowing moments of their life
Mar 16, 2020 03:03PM
By Carl Fauver
Linda Hardman (L) is one of several volunteers UPD Crime Victims’ Advocate Coordinator Lisa Kocherhans has recruited in recent months to assist Taylorsville residents in their most trying moments. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
WANTED: Someone willing to be called out of bed at any hour of the night to assist victims at their most vulnerable times. These victims may have been beaten by a spouse or parent, witnessed an unexpected death or discovered a loved one who has committed suicide. You may have to drive emotionally distraught victims well outside the Salt Lake Valley to get them assistance. Oh, and there’s no pay.
While such an emotionally wrenching position might not appeal to a lot of us, Lisa Kocherhans had enough hearty souls answer her request for volunteers, she has now successfully resurrected a program that was forced to go by the wayside just a couple of years ago.
Kocherhans is a paid civilian employee for the Unified Police Department – Taylorsville Precinct, working as its crime victim advocate volunteer coordinator.
“I have been a victim advocate nearly 20 years, including eight as a volunteer,” Kocherhans said. “I came to the Taylorsville UPD precinct in 2012, from Midvale. At one point we had several volunteer victim advocates working across the valley. But eventually those numbers dropped. Then we had volunteers driving all over to respond to crime scenes. The program was abolished in the fall of 2018.”
Kocherhans responds to crime victims herself, during the day. But within a year, she knew she needed her volunteer team back.
“I ran an ad in the Taylorsville City Newsletter (in these Journal pages) last fall and was pleased with the response,” she said. “I interviewed people. Those who qualified were given background checks, and those who were accepted underwent a 40-hour victim services domestic violence training course through the South Salt Lake Police Department last October.”
You might think spending 40 hours learning about the horrors of domestic violence would prompt one or two volunteers to back out. But Kocherhans said she found the right people and didn’t lose any of them.
“Every one of them came back from the training gung-ho and ready to do this,” she said. “I am humbled by their response and dedication, because this work is not easy.”
By November, Kocherhans was able to reinstate her 24/7 volunteer victim advocates on-call calendar, filling it with her six newly trained volunteers: Elise Dean, Ida Garcia, Donny Gasu, Linda Hardman, Nicholus Savas and Courtney Tommer.
Because they were all new, the “rookies” started out under the guidance of a more seasoned volunteer, JD Wood.
“I ended up being called out as a victim advocate on 29 of 30 nights last November; it was crazy,” Wood said. “Most nights, one of the new volunteers joined me, so I was able to train them. Lisa found some great people.”
Soon after that chaotic month, Wood was hired by the new Riverton Police Department as its victim advocate coordinator, a position nearly identical to the one Kocherhans has with Taylorsville UPD.
“I had been volunteering since 2015 and was excited to get the Riverton position,” Wood said. “Since we are a new department (Riverton broke from UPD to establish its own city police force last summer), I don’t have volunteers yet. But we are working toward that.”
At a January city council meeting, Taylorsville UPD Precinct Chief Tracy Wyant presented Wood with his “Chief’s Award” for his years of voluntary dedication on behalf of crime victims.
“Our volunteer victim advocates are such an amazing group, assisting people with what is very often the worst event of their life,” Wyant said. “I was pleased to honor JD for all his hard work. And it’s also a testament to [Kocherhans] and her ability to pick the right people to do this. It definitely takes a special person.”
As of early February, one of the new Taylorsville volunteers had only been called to a crime scene once, on a night she says she will never forget.
“My phone rang at 4 o’clock on a Sunday morning in December, with JD asking me to meet him at a victim’s home,” Linda Hardman said. “An infant girl just weeks old had died (from SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome), and several family members were there. I did my best to calm them, and I attended the baby’s viewing several days later. It was so emotional. I was glad to offer what assistance I could.”
Hardman, 72, has lived in Taylorsville since 1978 and has been a Realtor since 1994, following 12 years working as a nurse.
“My mother told me years ago, ‘If you would not be willing to trade someone positions, you at least owe them kindness,’” she said. “That philosophy has served me well, in everything from being stuck in line at the grocery store to dealing with [nursing] patients. And that philosophy helped encourage me to answer Lisa’s ad.”
Hardman admits that it was a very challenging first call.
“I tried to quietly support this mother, who was going through something I could not imagine in my worst nightmare,” she said. “I could not ‘fix’ this. I could just offer kindness and caring. What do you do when someone’s whole world is caving in? My position was to console.”
Among those pleased to see Kocherhans bring in a new fleet of volunteers is UPD Det. Jeff Sanderson, who investigates nearly all of the domestic violence cases the come through the Taylorsville precinct. He said she needed the assistance.
“[Kocherhans] is a rock star; her level of experience is far above everyone else’s,” Sanderson said. “But I am always concerned she is being overworked. If I had my choice, Lisa would handle all of the domestic violence calls. But the next best thing is to have volunteers she has trained. They do a great job getting people to the resources they need.”
On-call victim advocate volunteers continue to receive periodic training as they remain in their unpaid positions. On any given night, they have no idea if they will be called out, what time it might be or what emotionally charged scene they will find.
“It takes a special person to do this,” Kocherhans said. “I think I do a pretty good job of finding the right people. But, in the end, it is up to them. This is certainly not for everyone.”