Federal grant to help crime victims in Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron counties

WESLACO — A $147,000 grant has been awarded to assist crime victims throughout three Rio Grande Valley counties.

Two crime victims’ liaisons have been hired as part of the grant that will serve victims in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties. The liaisons are paid through the year-long federal grant distributed through the governor’s office, specifically its criminal justice division.

“We’re forming a regional program that’s going to be able to serve all victims at every stage of the crime — from the onset of the crime through investigation, through the prosecution process and even after prosecution because we work the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after a case is disposed,” said Rosie Martinez, the crime victim’s unit director for the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office.

The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, one of the state’s regional governing bodies, will provide an additional $36,000 to be used in its three-county jurisdiction.

No other regional governmental body has received such a grant.

By law, local agencies must have a crime victims’ liaison who works hand-in-hand with district attorneys’ offices to guarantee victims are informed of rights and resources like compensation, counseling or therapy. Services may be offered to all victims of crimes living in Texas, regardless of citizenship.

“Some of these smaller municipal agencies just do not have the resources,” said Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez.

The goal of the two new liaisons, Diana Almaguer and Nancy Gonzalez, will be able to decrease the time it takes for victims to receive help and to increase the percentage of victims who apply for assistance.

Almaguer and Gonzalez have been meeting with local law enforcement agencies throughout the three counties since September 2017.

“This service is highly needed, in particular, for this area,” said Manuel Cruz, the director of public safety with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. “We mainly exist to help out the smaller communities.”

Cruz will again begin the process of applying for the grant to extend it for two years.

Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council representatives also want to establish a regional victim assistance academy that would offer training for staff.

Crime victims wanting to apply for assistance may contact their local law enforcement agency.

“It’s always important to remember that victims have rights, and they’re also supposed to have a voice,” Rodriguez said. “So, we are filling in those gaps.”