Advocate gives victims a voiceJul 22, 2021 10:09AM ● By Becky Ginos
Jennifer Winchester was recently recognized by the Kaysville Police Department for her exemplary service as victim advocate. Courtesy photos
KAYSVILLE—Dogs really are man’s best friend. Just a lick and a nuzzle can soothe the soul. For Jennifer Winchester, victim services coordinator for the Kaysville Police Department, 8-month-old puppy Walter helps her do her job.
“We use him as a therapy dog,” said Winchester. “He’s beneficial to us and to victims. He’s a big help just in morale.”
Walter is going through hybrid training, she said. “He will learn specific techniques that if we’re interviewing a victim of sexual assault and she gets overwhelmed he’ll use a grounding technique. That’s where he uses deep pressure by putting weight, like a paw, onto the person that helps to calm them.”
Studies show that just having a dog present improves mood, she said. “There’s a lot of evidence of that with dogs in general.”
Technically Walter will be trained as a service dog, said Winchester. “A service dog is task oriented where an emotional support dog is just there to make you feel better.”
Since she is Walter’s handler he gets to come home with her. “It’s a good perk to my job.”
Winchester’s position is relatively new to the department. It started with her four years ago. “I’m an advocate for victims of crime,” she said. “I respond out to crime scenes and help them with things they don’t understand, tell them their rights, how the court works and tell them the resources that are available to them.”
The department started the program because the chief saw a need, said Winchester. “It’s kind of grown. I’m hoping to bring on some volunteers in the future.”
It’s typically crisis response, she said. “In a domestic violence situation I go in and sit down with the victim. My presence is calming. I tell them ‘here’s what’s going to happen.’ I do safety planning with them. I give them their voice.”
Winchester assists victims all the way through the process. “Domestic violence is a class B misdemeanor so that’s handled in justice court,” she said. “I sit down with the prosecutor and help with a victim impact statement and coordinate with them. If it’s over a class B I typically work with the victim through the investigation and transition to the county advocate if it gets prosecuted.”
Most advocates are based in the prosecutor's office rather than the police department, said Winchester. “Advocates are becoming more and more common, thankfully.”
Although it can be a tough job, it’s something Winchester has always wanted to do. “I knew I wanted to work in criminal justice somehow. I got my bachelor’s in psychology and I’m applying to the master’s program in social work.”
Winchester believes the program has been very beneficial to victims and the department. “We’ve grown as a team,” she said. “I’m a helpful resource for them (officers) and they’re a helpful resource to me.”
It’s beneficial to everyone, said Winchester. “I’ve had victims who’ve come back and they’re prospering. That’s a good feeling. It’s definitely rewarding at times. I just want to help people.