|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Copyright 2013 - Polk County Publishing Company
Agencies awarded funds seized from criminals
BY BRIAN BESCH
LIVINGSTON -- Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of the Pines, SAAFE House and Childrenz Haven, agencies that dedicate services for crime victims, each received checks for $5,000 to assist in continuing their mission of helping Polk County citizens at the Polk County Justice Center Tuesday. "Thanks to the assistance of the sheriff's department, municipal police departments in the county and the Texas Department of Public Safety, we have had considerable amounts of money awarded to law enforcement agencies and our office that have been seized from criminals," Polk County Criminal District Attorney Lee Hon said. "We are very fortunate in this county to have three really effective nonprofit entities that do a fantastic job in their respective missions, working with our office in providing invaluable services to crime victims." Under Chapter 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, whenever property or money is seized in connection with criminal activity, there is a process that law enforcement can go through to have that money awarded to the state. Most frequently, the proceeds are that of illegal drug activity. The money has been used for law enforcement agencies to purchase items such as computers for the municipal police departments, protective gear for law enforcement agencies and assistance for game wardens and their patrol vehicles. In 2009, the Texas Legislature amended Chapter 59 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to provide that a prosecuting attorney could also use asset forfeiture funds to assist nonprofit entities that are directly involved in providing services to crime victims. "That has been a huge part of what our office has been about since I have been district attorney," Hon said. "I think it is also important for all three of these agencies to get along and work together hand-in-hand for the benefit of the victims. Without you guys, we couldn't do the work that we do in our office. It's really going to be up to you to decide how to best utilize that money within your own budgets, with the one caveat that the money be used here in Polk County." When home is no longer a safe for a child and the child must enter the foster care system, a judge may appoint a volunteer called a Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA. The volunteer's focus is to that child, giving hope and help in guiding the child to a safe, permanent home. The information they gather and their recommendations help the court make informed decisions. CASA volunteers commit to a child until the case is closed and the child is in a safe, permanent home. "We really appreciate the donation, because we only have one fundraiser in Polk County, which usually nets about $15,000," Casa of the Pines Executive Director Natalie Thornton said. "So, obviously with our staff and with other services we provide, we usually have to go on pretty much the money that we receive from the state government to help with that. So, this money is really going to be important as far as providing services directly to Polk County children." SAAFE House is committed to empowering abuse victims by providing immediate, free and confidential services. To clients, they offer a trained staff and volunteer resources to help reach each individual's need. SAAFE House strives to educate the community to prevent and eliminate the causes of family violence and sexual assault. Since 1992, the organization in Livingston has served Trinity, San Jacinto, Polk and Walker County. "We are so excited to have this money given to us for Polk County, because we recently lost $40,000 from government grants," SAAFE House Executive Director Jolene Miller said. "So, this is actually going to go to support running our shelter, paying for utilities and having staff that can be there 24 hours per day. It is a blessing to be able to get the support." Childrenz Haven opened in Sept of 2009 and provides a child-friendly environment for its child clients and is a member of Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas, a statewide membership association representing all local children's advocacy centers in the Lone Star state. Children are referred to Childrenz Haven by Law Enforcement officials, CPS investigators and medical professionals. Childrenz Haven is a neutral entity, making no recommendations in any case. It provides a supportive and nurturing environment, in which a child victim can interact with the necessary agencies. "Actually for us, operating expenses are always something that we need help with, so the idea that this will help take care of our audit, for example, is wonderful," Childrenz Haven Executive Director K. Susie Adams said. "It is hard to get a fundraiser together and say, 'help us pay for our audit.' So, I am very pleased that we can have some of those expenses paid for. Because this will pay for the audit, that means that we can have more people go to the Crimes Against Children's Conference or places were law enforcement, CPS and our staff actually get to go and learn how to better serve these kids."