Pittsburgh public safety job aims to fill gaps in victim aid, while a local leader says it’s a ‘duplication of services’

Applications opened this week for a victim assistance coordinator, which comes with a $52,597 salary.

Pittsburgh Police headquarters.

Pittsburgh Police headquarters.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline
MJ Slaby

Applications for a city victim assistance coordinator are now being accepted, but it’s unclear how much the new role will overlap with an existing center that aids victims in Allegheny County.

The 2017 city budget includes a $52,597 salary for the coordinator, a new full-time role in the Department of Public Safety. That person will aid victims of crimes, domestic violence and natural or man-made disaster in Pittsburgh and work on police policy and trainings and educate the community, according to the job description.

The coordinator job description and application was posted on the city’s online employment center Sunday, and applications close Feb. 6.

The city’s Department of Public Safety won’t know the number of applicants until the listing closes, Sonya Toler, department spokeswoman told The Incline in an email. That person will be one of 46 full-time administrators.

Laurie MacDonald, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh-based Center for Victims said the new role sounded like a “duplication of services.”

That center provides support services and education to anyone impacted by a crime in Allegheny County. MacDonald said the center has done this work for more than 40 years and has a staff of 75 working with more than 15,000 crime victims and their family members each year.

Toler said the Center for Victims “provides an invaluable service to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, homicides and other crimes” and has a good working relationship with city police.

“However, there is a gap in similar services for victims of other public safety-related incidents, and we are hoping to better serve the public by hiring a compassionate person, ideally with a public safety background, for this position,” Toler said.

She said, for example, that it is up to the responding public information officer — which could be the PIO or a department supervisor — to connect victims to the American Red Cross when residents lose their home in a fire. She said that takes away from that person’s ability to provide information to journalists and on social media.

“We have also heard that victims do not know who to turn to for assistance after the first few days when the Red Cross is no longer assisting them,” she said.

MacDonald said the Center for Victims aids with large-scale natural disasters like flooding through a public information line, but leaves incidents like house fires to the Red Cross. She said the center has done for years many of the things the city coordinator would be called on to do.

Toler stressed that the city department encompasses all public safety and not just police. She wouldn’t address if that means the new city victim assistance coordinator will focus more on non-crime related incidents. Instead, she pointed back to the job description, which includes responsibilities to both:

… victims of crimes, and/or domestic violence investigated by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, or [natural] or man-made disaster are afforded the opportunity to receive emergent services and support and plan for long-term safety needs as required by state law. Coordinates the day to day operational aspects as well as works with law enforcement on training and maintaining community awareness of the program, and liaises with city and county agencies to ensure coordinated services.

During budget hearings last month, Wendell Hissrich, director of the public safety department, told city council that the job was similar to a role at the FBI, and he didn’t have a specific person in mind for the job. Hissrich previously worked for the FBI for 25 years.

Additional responsibilities from the job posting include:

  • Connect victims, witnesses and family members with needed services, programs and community agencies, help them with related applications and provide information about the legal process
  • Be available for long-term safety planning, including responding to victims in person, by phone, email, letters and faxes, sometimes during non-working hours
  • Speak to and lead trainings for various community groups about victim support and assistance
  • Identify trainings needs for law enforcement as well as improve existing police polices and procedures regarding victim services