Quick Questions with Terri Drennan, Crime Victims Coordinator

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 July 2013 at 12:00 am

Advocate wants to help victims through court process and beyond

Photos by Tom Rivers – Terri Drennan is pictured outside the Orleans County Public Safety Building in Albion. She has worked as the county’s crime victims coordinator the past six years, after working 14 years as a rape crisis counselor.

ALBION – Terri Drennan has spent two decades working with crime victims, including the past six years as crime victims coordinator.

She works full-time and has two part-time advocates who attend town and county courts, and keep victims updated on cases.

Drennan, the former Terri Champeney of Albion, graduated with a psychology degree from Buffalo State College.

Her husband Tom is the chief deputy in the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department. They have three children.

Question: What does a crime victim advocate do?

Answer: We have a lot of different functions. The main function is to provide support if the victim chooses to come to court to observe what is going on, and explain the criminal justice process because it can be very confusing. They’re there to provide information. They can connect people to other services. If it’s domestic violence we can refer them to people who specialize in domestic violence.

We can’t do counseling per se because we’re under the umbrella of the District’s Attorney Office.

An advocate may be doing advocacy with the district attorney. They may see if there is an order of protection in place yet. Maybe they’ve had some items stolen or damaged and want to discuss restitution. We can share that information with the district attorney.

Sometimes they want to drop an order of protection or have it modified. We can help with that.

Question: If victims don’t go to court, do you fill them in on what happened?

Answer: Yes. They don’t have to go and a lot of people choose not to. We can call them and let them know. We can let them know what happened in court and when there’s a return court date.

I want people to look beyond what happens to the perpetrator, for themselves and for their family because no one is ever going to go to jail long enough for some of the things that have happened to people. Sometimes there’s just no equal.

Question: Is does seem confusing, sitting in court with all the motions and other steps.

Answer: People are surprised by the length of time it takes. I think people get used to watching television where a crime is solved and covered in an hour. If they’ve had something damaged or stolen it can sit in the evidence room for months.

Question: Is a crime victims unit a relatively new thing?

Answer: If I remember my history correctly it came here in 1998 under the district attorney’s umbrella. Prior to that Ellen Tuohey was doing some things out of the basement of the courthouse. I’m not sure of the dynamics of that but there was some crime victims’ work going on. Now we’re all grant funded.

Question: If you’re grant funded, does that make this program tenuous?

Answer: Yes.

Question: How do you get your money to run the program?

Answer: It’s federal money that comes in through the state. The New York State Office of Victim Services is our grant holder. That is who we apply to for grant funding.

Question: This seems like a hard job that could you keep you awake at night.

Answer: People don’t usually come into contact with us when they’ve had a great day. It can be very draining, very frustrating, but you meet a lot of amazing people. When people say, ‘Thank you. You were very helpful,’ that makes it all worth it.

Question: I would think a lot of crime victims are heroic, picking up the pieces and continuing on with life.

Answer: Yes. Just getting out of bed some mornings might be all they accomplished, but you know what, they got out of bed. We’ve had homicides, DWI crashes that have resulted in deaths. We’ve lost children. To get out of bed, that’s huge.

Some people have taken that tragedy to try to change some things so the next family doesn’t have to go through that or to raise awareness.

Question: How long are you in contact with people? Do your services tend to end when the case is over?

Answer: That’s probably up to them. Some people we’ll try to connect with and they may want nothing. They’re not interested. That’s fine.

Other people we’ll work with them throughout the entire criminal case. It tends to draw to a close a little after that. If they need additional help, we make counseling referrals and get them connected with other services.

We live in a small community so it’s great to see people afterwards and see how they’re doing.

Question: How many people are you working with in terms of caseloads?

Answer: When a case comes in we try to make contact through a phone call and letters to at least make people aware of our services. Some people it’s very limited. They might just want $100 in restitution for their broken window or an order of protection. There’s probably a few hundred people in that capacity.

People that we have more of a relationship with we probably work with about 100.

Question: Are you helpful to the DA, by connecting with the victims?

Answer: I’d like to think so. They (DA’s Office) may have a file and want to hear from the victim. That doesn’t mean it will play out how the victim wants it to, but the DA wants to know.

Question: You majored in psychology at Buff State. Were you thinking you’d enter the human services field?

Answer: Yes. When I graduated I figured I would save the world, but I figured out pretty quickly I wasn’t going to save the world. You help one person at a time.

Question: Any other comments?

Answer: I want people to look beyond what happens to the perpetrator, for themselves and for their family because no one is ever going to go to jail long enough for some of the things that have happened to people. Sometimes there’s just no equal.