Volunteers with the Cedar Park Police Department Victim Services Division are required to participate in 30 hours of training on subjects as homicide, suicides, family violence and more. These volunteers are on call to respond to a crisis situation and provide emotional and tangible support to the victims.
Recently I spoke to the volunteers providing training on the role of the Justice of the Peace when an unexpected death occurs. They were surprised to know my duties included signing the death certificate and ordering an autopsy. I have a county budget for autopsies to cover any that are ordered. In addition to being an investigator, I am responsible to determine and certify the cause and manner of death. The local law enforcement is to be notified first whenever there is an unexpected death. As the JP is the chief investigator, the victim cannot be moved until the JP authorizes them to be moved. It is the responsibility of the JP to determine whether there should be a criminal investigation or whether the death is natural. To make a final determination of the cause and manner of death, law enforcement investigators and the JP work together. If necessary the JP issues subpoenas for additional information and may hold a formal hearing.
A death scene investigation can get very busy with officers providing safety and information, detectives, crime lab technicians, family members or friends, medical emergency personnel, firemen, and the Justice of the Peace. The victim service volunteers provide emotional and tangible support to those on scene. Their duties include everything from assisting with notification of family members, providing emotional support, to entertaining a small child during the crisis to provide a calm distraction. These volunteers follow up with the friends and family of the victim to provide additional information and assistance.
Before the Division was created and these volunteers did not exist, my role as JP also included the role of victim assistance. My most memorable moment was trying to comfort two crying babies as I held them on each hip while a distraught mother attempted to gain control of her emotions at the scene where her mother had passed away. Even though I am sensitive to the needs of the friends and family on scene to provide as much support as I possibly can, I am very grateful for the sacrificial service of these volunteers. They provide an invaluable to the citizens of Cedar Park and the Police Department.
Victim Services is a part of the Cedar Park Police Department Criminal Investigation Division (CID). Individuals interested in serving the Cedar Park community as a Victim Services Volunteer can contact Mirna Fuentes, Victim Services Coordinator at (512) 260-4656 for further information