Since 1996, advocates from Cache County Victims Services have been working behind the scenes to help people in the aftermath of a difficult situation but now they are also working with law enforcement, where they can be a friendly face from the onset.

Jenny Nielsen is one of three advocates working under the direction of Terryl Warner, and each of them take a turn riding with a Cache County Sheriff’s deputy during the evening hours.

“It is interesting, but it can be really hit and miss — sometimes there is a lot going on, and some nights you never get out of the car,” she said.

On a similar note, you never really know what kind of call you will be on — it runs the gamut, Warner said.

Nielsen said one night she was there while officer took a fraud-related call that most likely originated outside of the country, leaving the victim with little recourse. However, it was a situation where her presence made a bad situation less intimidating, she said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Nielsen said there was another night when she responded with officers to a suicide. In those first shocking moments of grief, she said she was right there with the family and able to set up immediate crisis counseling for them at The Family Place.

Advocates were also on scene when a man drowned at Newton Dam and when a driver struck a washing machine that had fallen from another vehicle.

You might find them at a domestic violence call or a traffic fatality. Just last week, Warner said, an advocate responded with deputies to a home where a young woman was detained inside a bedroom and assaulted.

“We never know what we’re going to run into … but we’re there if they need us,” she said.

Nielsen loves to be outdoors, especially hiking or gardening, but she also loves “crime stuff” and reading true crime.

She started working for the county 14 years ago. She didn’t really know what the job would entail, she said, but she was ready for a change and it ended up being a good fit.

In the past, Nielsen said it might be days or weeks before a victim was given a referral to the Victims’ Services, so the addition of night patrols has provided some victims with immediate contact.

“The victim already has that contact (with an advocate) and they can start to heal sooner than later,” she said. “By the time the charges are filed, then it is not so intimidating.”

Advocates never enter a scene until an officer determines it is safe to do so, and when they do, they merely offer their support and any applicable services to those who wish to accept.

Being on scene during an incident has made Nielsen more empathetic and left her with a better understanding of what the victim has been through.

“It makes it more real for me, to see all of that,” she said.

The child sex abuse cases are the most difficult cases; “It’s just hard to know a child has gone through that,” she said.

She gets through the hard days with the support of the other advocates.

“We are in each other’s offices all the time, it is such a supportive environment,” she said. “We are always bouncing ideas off of one another, and it is nice to have someone to go to who understands.”

As grueling as some of the cases are, Nielsen said she has worked with “victims” who are not defined by the events in their lives, and she finds it very rewarding hear about how they are moving forward in spite of the hardships.

She loves to learn about their accomplishments, especially when they are able to change the course of their lives in a positive way — like one woman who started a nonprofit and another who is going to law school.

While the advocates ride with a Cache County Sheriff’s deputy, Warner said they respond to any incident in the valley where their assistance might be beneficial, so Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen has had the occasion to benefit from their work.

“They really have an opportunity to stand tall for the victim,” he said. “It is not that we can’t, but that is not what we have been trained for and it really isn’t our forte.”

Jensen said it is a win-win — the advocates are highly knowledgeable about the resources available to victims and they have time to spend with them, which frees police officers up to go on to the next call.

“They provide real-time help to real-time problems,” he said.

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Amy Macavinta is the crime reporter for The Herald Journal. She can be reached at amacavinta@hjnews.com.