A homicide “victim” is not the deceased alone.
Nearly every violent death in Miami- Dade County also leaves family members who must deal with the shock of loss, in addition to trying personal circumstances that instantly result with the loss of a father, mother or other close relative — most often a hardship for the young.
Those are the times when the Victim Advocate Program of the Miami-Dade Police Department comes into play in the person of Davany Vargas who shared her 10 years of experience with a West Kendall audience on Jan. 28.
“Violent crime often leaves the survivor traumatized, physically and emotionally damaged, and financially destitute,” the veteran police official described to the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) of the Miami-Dade Police Hammocks District.
“Just a few weeks ago, a 15-year-old teenage girl suddenly lost both her father and mother in a murder-suicide case,” she said. “That’s when we stepped in to help, not only coping with the law enforcement investigation but her protection, as well as the judicial process of her legal rights and potential compensation.”
In Florida, a survivor who has no felony record on file is immediately eligible for a $5,000 payment through the State Attorney’s Office that channels federal dollars and convicted felon assets into a fund to provide economic assistance. The widow of a deceased may apply for a $20,000 support payment.
Such concerns for the innocent in a tragedy established the county program in 1997, administered for the past 10 years by Vargas, a one-person staff providing help to innocent and grief-stricken survivors, often children of domestic violence.
Of 117 violent homicides in Miami- Dade last year, Vargas took part in 108 to provide guidance to those left in the wake of such crimes.
It is an unusual circumstance for the 37- year-old Puerto Rican native who graduated from the University of Massachusetts (Boston) with a degree in creative writing, rather than criminal law or psychology.
“While growing up, our family always tried to help those in need,” she related. “My sisters and I helped at orphanages, soup kitchens, church groups — because our parents believed providing help to the unfortunate was part of growing up.”
Vargas began a career in advocacy by applying for a position with an agency needed bilingual support with its connection to the State Attorney’s offices in Wilson and Durham, NC. Over four years, she began assisting the surviving victims of violent crimes in three state districts.
Working a case with a Miami connection, her concern for the innocent was spotted by a local caseworker who saw Vargas’ experience and humaness was just what was needed for an unfilled advocacy position with the Miami-Dade Police, a post she has held for the past 10 years.
During a presentation, Vargas displayed the statistics of violent crimes in Miami- Dade (22,877 in one six-month period during 2013, including 97 homicides). Nearly all left someone in traumatic circumstances.
“Someone once said the greatest gift you can give someone is time,” Vargas concluded. “That is what we hope to do for those unfortunately left behind.”
For more information, visit www.mpd/victimservices.com.