Apr. 16—An increase in sex assaults has one local police chief making changes in how his department investigates violent crimes.
Other departments are taking note.
Officers now call the Cambria County 911 center to dispatch a Victim Services Inc. advocate to meet with the victim as soon the crime is reported, said Upper Yoder Township police Chief Don Hess.
"That way, the female advocate can take the lead and get the information that we need to get the investigation going," Hess said. "It's helping the victim and helping us get outcomes in the courtroom."
Hess said his department is investigating more sexual assaults, including alleged crimes at nearby Hiram G. Andrews Center, an educational facility on Goucher Street.
Johnathan Franc Schwing, 21, of Schuylkill County, will appear in Cambria County court, charged with aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault in connection with an alleged February attack on a female student.
"I've been advised that (Schwing) is no longer residing at Hiram G. Andrews," Cambria County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Gribler said.
A Victim Services Inc. advocate has been meeting with the alleged victim in that case, Hess said. Previously, the officers would call a Victim Services Inc. hotline to request to speak to an advocate. The new policy streamlines the process to get an advocate connected with law enforcement to assist sexual victims.
Victim Services Inc. and representatives from the Women's Help Center met last month with township police, Johnstown police and Cambria County detectives.
"It's a more trauma-informed approach," said Jessica Piro, child and family advocate for Victim Services Inc., which has offices in Johnstown and Somerset.
Police are learning to better understand victims, Hess said.
"The training was to remind our officers of the importance of keeping the victim in mind, especially in sexual assaults," Hess said.
Police officers help victims get help quickly.
"It's extremely important because an advocate can help them understand their victims rights and help them navigate the process," Piro said.
The policy has been in place for more than a year and other departments are adopting the change. The Cambria County District Attorney's Office has interest in making it a countywide policy, Piro said.