Their mission is simple: “To validate, educate and empower victims of violent crime as they move through the healing process.”
Fortunately, here in the City of Vision, there isn’t a lot of “violent crime,” but one never knows when it can happen.
When it does happen, the questions come: Who did it? How could that happen? What will he be charged with? Can he go to prison? When is the trial?
But when do the questions come from the other side, namely the victim or victims? That’s where the Crime Victim Assistance Unit (CVAU) of the Rio Rancho Police Department comes in.
“We deal with victims on a daily basis,” said Nitasha Grinstead, coordinator for the CVAU, which RRPD Deputy Chief Andrew Rodriguez said, “has been in existence here at the department for probably the last two decades.” (It began in July 2021, per the RRPD website.)
But it’s not well publicized and it’s something more people need to know about.
“We need the community to know we are here, and there are resources for victims of violent crime,” she said. “People don’t know we exist.”
There are similar units within New Mexico and throughout the U.S., Grinstead said, because, “People need help navigating the criminal process.
“If we can come alongside them and help through that process of healing, empowerment and education – I think it’s really important.
“We don’t want them to be victims of crime … but we’re here if they need anything.”
“Their mission is to help people navigate the criminal justice system from the victims’ perspective,” Rodriguez explained. “They help out in many different ways. They’re a benefit to the police department because they can take care of things that we can’t as officers – it helps augment what we’re doing.”
Every morning, Grinstead said, they go through reports from the previous day and assess which need their help.
“While we are investigating the crime, the CVAU come in and talk to the victim at a different level than what we’re doing as police officers: Navigate the courts – what’s next?”
Or, as Rodriguez outlined it, “Get them whatever it is they need – they’re that beacon of information.”
Most victims are unaware of what to do after they’ve been wronged.
“They help get people through the system so they don’t get re-victimized,” Rodriguez said.
Too many times, “Everyone forgets about the victim left behind, and that’s where they come in.”
Grinstead, who alternates weeks in which she and advocate Marie Posey – that’s the whole unit — are on call 24/7, outlined a typical call-out.
“For instance, we may get a domestic violence call through dispatch and an officer needs us out on scene, to a hospital,” she said. “We will respond there, assess what they need, which is safety. (And) one, to get them the medical care they need at that moment and then, two, to assess the safety plan.
“We’ll talk to them about a restraining order. We’ll get them with the Crime Victims Reparation Commission, which can help them relocate – those are funds available to victims of domestic violence. There are so many different resources that we utilize.
“We also help with homicide victims’ families … we will get them to the right resources, so they can help with funeral costs, and just be there to talk with them.”
Among the plethora of resources are counselors, clergy members, information about legal representation, sometimes other crime victims who suffered through an earlier fate, and even family members. And for victims of domestic violence, Haven House – Sandoval County’s only shelter for DV victims, is an alternative.
“They do a great job of connecting and helping the officers,” Rodriguez added. “It really is a benefit to the officers.”
The department gets its own week
“To celebrate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 23-29), we wrote a proposal that then needed to be approved by my sergeant and command staff,” said Grinstead. “It was signed off on and we were given the green light to proceed.”
During that week, Grinstead says, “We would like to engage with a few (anonymous) victims to briefly share their story with the community, and to ask them how CVAU helped them through one of the darkest times of their lives. The hope is to make these stories feel personal, for people to be aware and to hopefully spot the signs of domestic violence.”
The victims they serve aren’t always the result of domestic violence, but other crimes as well, including sexual assaults.
“This will also give us an opportunity to provide information to our community about the importance of awareness, education and empowerment to victims,” she said. “We strongly believe that the more we educate, inspire, empower and engage with the citizens of Rio Rancho, the more hopeful we become in seeing incidences of domestic violence and sexual assault decrease among Sandoval County residents.”
They plan to also reach out to students in the city’s high schools “is to provide the students and young adults information regarding dating violence and sexual assault.”
Another aspect of the week is also to give thanks and appreciation to the dedication of law enforcement officers who are the first responders to these victims. Domestic violence calls can sometimes turn deadly.
“We know these can be some of the most dangerous calls that law enforcement will receive,” said Grinstead, who’s been with the CVAU three years. “We would like to attend and speak with officers during their scheduled briefings, if possible, (to) give us an opportunity to meet them and remind them of CVAU services, the importance of our collaboration in addition to be able to share with them some ‘success stories’ of victims they have helped.”
Put a candle in the window
“During NCVR Week, we would like to share on social media or through media resources, asking the community to join us in recognizing victims/survivors by putting a purple light on their front porch, or to light a candle,” Grinstead said. “By doing this, the hope is that victims are aware that they are not alone and that together we stand in solidarity, as well as increase awareness that domestic violence can happen to anyone.”
Grinstead and Posey will be attending the second annual Multi-Disciplinary Domestic Violence Conference April 26-27. It will focus on issues related to law enforcement, district attorney and domestic violence advocates.
“This three-track conference will be beneficial for CVAU in so many ways,” Grinstead said. “We are looking forward to connecting and networking with other victim service providers. The desire is to develop more relationships, get more beneficial resources and being able to learn new concepts or ideas that may help serve domestic violence victims and grow and strengthen our unit.”
• “I was a victim of domestic violence on January 8, 2023. The CVAU gave me so many helpful resources and support after I got out of the hospital. They helped me fill out my court documents and guided me to other resources that would help me and my children. They have been there every step of the way through this difficult time. I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for them. Being in that situation is scary, but having the support of the CVAU made a huge difference. To this day, they still check on me and my children and offer to help in any way they can. I am beyond grateful for them!!”
• “I honestly do not know what I would do without Marie Posey standing by my side during one of the most difficult times of my life. Not only has she been there to lend a shoulder when I’m sobbing, she has made herself available any time I’ve needed her. It’s truly been a blessing, because I feel heard and supported. She’s provided many resources that are available [that] I would not know about otherwise. This program has tremendously helped with the stress of my situation. I’m forever grateful for Marie.”
• “On that day back in Sept. 2022, once the police were called and Officer Misbach took my report and I got to the hospital where I met Sgt. Railey and the victims’ advocate, Nitasha Grinstead. All three of these people, especially Nitasha, saw my case until the end and was my support through it all. This was a very trying event on my life because I thought I was going to die. I don’t know what I would have done without CVAU. Nitasha has shown me such positivity and that I am not a victim; I am a survivor. I love Nitasha and she has shown me that I can live without the abuse of anyone, and I am strong person. I finally am starting to believe that thanks to all the people that helped save my life.”
• “To receive a phone call from Marie Posey the morning after a horrible night with my husband was a surprise. She listened to me, encouraged me and gave me the confidence to come in and meet with her to do an order of protection against my husband that has been abusive to me for years. My whole life has changed because of the support that I received from Marie at the Rio Rancho Crime Victims Unit. She called to check on me often and even went to court with me two times to offer support. I was told I had value and I was worthy of not being abused. I was challenged to set boundaries and no longer enable the abuse. I now have confidence not to be in an abusive relationship any longer; my kids and I are now in therapy and healing from the years of abuse. The caring, compassion and resources she offered me was just what I needed. Thank you for making this department available to residents of Rio Rancho. It saved my life.”