Statewide program offers assistance to La. crime victims
18th August 2014 · 0 Comments
By Nayita Wilson
The Louisiana Crime Victims Reparations Board (LCVRB) has distributed more than $12 million to Louisiana victims of crimes since 1983. Program administrators and advocates say the funds provide much needed financial assistance to individuals and families impacted by crime and could serve more individuals with increased funding and awareness.
For the last two years, Sgt. Stephanie Minto-Gibson has worked as a claims investigator for victims’ reparations at the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff’s Office (OPCSO). She is one of 64 claims investigators in the state, as each Louisiana parish has an investigator who submits claims to the board on behalf of crime victims seeking reparations.
Minto-Gibson works closely with the New Orleans Police Department, Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, Silence is Violence and various victim advocacy groups to investigate and prepare claims to submit to LCVRB for consideration and is pleased with how the partners are collaborating around the interest of the victims.
“It is a wonderful program because often times we are focused on the perpetrator,” she said. “Because of this program, we get to see who the victims are, we get to hear their words, we get to help them go through a life-long trauma by helping with counseling and any other monetary funding that’s here to help them.”
Last week, she attended LCVRB’s monthly meeting and helped to secure a $25,000 award for a now adult woman who was shot when she was a juvenile. The victim in this case has been wheelchair bound since the incident and awarded disability as a result; however, she didn’t submit a formal claim for reparations until last year. Initially, her case was deferred on two occasions by the board due to the time lapse between the incident and her filing as well as a need to provide supplemental materials.
OPCSO is also working with the families of the deceased and surviving victims of a drive by shooting that occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward on Aug. 11, which resulted in the deaths of Jasmine Anderson,16, and Terrence McBride, 33, as well as the wounding of five bystanders, including three children and two adults. Thus far, the office has secured financial assistance for the family of one of the deceased.
Between January and July of this year, 110 Orleans Parish cases received rulings. Of those, 41 were approved; 14 were denied and 55 received other rulings such as deferrals for document verification or other stipulations.
Additionally, 76 awards totaling $229,797.32 were granted to victims in Orleans Parish. Of the individuals receiving awards, 49 were men and 27 were women. Also among the disbursements:
• Nineteen awards totaling $73,897.62 were granted for assault crimes
• Forty-six awards totaling $123,188.87 were granted for homicides
• One award totaling $1,535.66 was granted for sexual assault
• One award totaling $500 was granted for catastrophic property loss
• Two awards totaling $8,620.10 were awarded for other vehicular crimes
• Two awards totaling $10,555.07 were awarded for robberies
• Two awards totaling $1,000 were awarded for arson
• Three awards totaling $1,500 were awarded for other crimes
On a statewide basis in 2013: 684 claims totaling $2,063,096 were awarded; 175 were denied; 391 were deferred; approximately $1,341,106 was collected; and the average award amount was $3,017.
Funds for crime reparations in Louisiana are collected from fines levied in criminal court cases at the local level and are disbursed by LCVRB. The amounts collected vary by crime classification. Offenders are assessed a minimum of $50 in felony cases and $7.50 in misdemeanor violations of municipal or parish laws, with the exception of traffic and other violations specified by law.
LCVRB, which is governed by the Louisiana Commission of Law Enforcement, administers the funds and sets eligibility criteria as well as award limitations to claimants seeking reparations. Eligible claimants may receive up to $10,000 or a maximum of $25,000 in instances where a victim has become permanently disabled as a result of a crime.
Minto-Gibson says that OPCSO investigates 10 to 50 cases per month and has secured awards in the amount of $25,000 for at least eight victims within the last two years. In terms of funding, she desires to see the maximum allocation of $5,000 for funeral expenses increased as well as the $500 allocation granted in emergency instances.
She said an increase in the one-time emergency funding would cover costs beyond transportation or lodging for families that have to relocate and need to get reestablished. “I would love to see them have a cushion for additional funding to provide a nice meal or to even turn the lights on once they get to the location,” she said.
Bob Wertz, criminal justice policy planner for LCVRB, said the board assists 700 to 800 Louisiana crime victims annually and that a significant portion of the funds granted are used for funeral expenses or to help cover out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance companies. The challenge, he says, is getting more people to know about the fund.
LCVRB grants funds for medical, prescription and dental expenses, mental health counseling, funeral expenses, loss of earnings or support, child care or dependent care, crime scene clean up and emergency funds. To learn more about eligibility requirements, secure an application or identify a local claims investigator, visit www.lcle.la.gov.
This article originally published in the August 18, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.