New victim helper likes human payoff

Feb 20, 2014 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Cindy Gustin stepped in as the new victim witness coordinator with the Riverton Police Department at the start of the year and, taking over a position centered on helping others.

Gustin said the required skills are not new to her. She worked for the University of Wyoming for 17 years in the educational opportunity department, a federal TRIO program fully funded by two grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

As assistant director, she helped students with information on college admission and provided services related to financial and economic options for admission and enrollment. She helped with basic financial planning skills and in the application process. The program focused on getting more adults, veterans, high school students and active duty military families to enroll in postsecondary education.

"Social work doesn't pay as much, but the payoff is working with folks," she said.

She also has visited prisons and helped interested inmates pursue college courses and complete general education development tests for those who didn't earn a high school diploma.

She received her bachelor's and master's degree in social work from UW and said the new position fits well with her social work background and focus. She has volunteered with the RPD victim services program in the past.

Victim assistance

With the RPD victim assistance department, Gustin is in charge of serving as a support advocate to victims of crimes during an investigation.

"Every day is a new story," Gustin said.

She helps victims understand the legal process, accompanies them to court, and provides updates on their cases. Clients also become aware of counseling programs and how to obtain restitution when appropriate.

"We are working with people who are in crisis," Gustin said. "They've been victimized by something or someone."

Gustin said one of the biggest challenges was learning the court system in order to grasp the complexity of court cases for each person who goes through the department.

"It's complicated, and there's rules in order for the justice system to work," Gustin said. "We have to make sure their rights are heard."

She said some cases require follow up after services have been rendered, but others are a "one-time thing" as long as the police department has the report.

For example, Gustin said a case can be about someone who reports identify theft or had money stolen from a bank accounts. The department can offer some options and information on how to deal with the incident.

In a domestic violence situation, clients are given counseling education, help with reporting it, and following them through the court case when charges are filed.

"Every interaction you have with that person is a positive one if it's successful," she said. "You could change their life, and that can be really rewarding."

Gustin's arrival came soon after the retirement of Carroll Westlake, who left the position after 15 years with the RPD. She worked along with Pat Buoy, who remains in the department, and together they provided more than 3,000 direct services to 300 victims in 2011.

Buoy has worked for the RPD for 10 years and assists Gustin as victim services specialist. The department also has volunteers in the department that start with a 40 hour online training for victim services and can help in the office with paperwork. They then get started on easier cases and perform data entry.

A new person for outreach services may be hired to give presentations at events on what services are offered and how to report a crime. Gustin said she also would like to reach out to the elderly because they're more prone to phone scams.

"A lot of that is just to inform people," she said.

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