Advocate supports families in grief
By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE -- At a crime scene, Deputy Cinda Moore tries to be dispassionate.
She makes herself think of a murder victim as a body, rather than someone's dead mother, wife or friend. She tries not to identify with the victim, as she does not want their stories to follow her home at night.
During her seven years at the Hernando Sheriff's Office, however, Moore, 32, has found it difficult to focus only on investigating a case. She, and other sheriff's deputies, have been expected to guide families through the details of death -- helping to contact pastors, providing information about the Medical Examiner's Office, comforting as tears flow.
For the past six months, however, deputies say they have been able, somewhat, to relinquish their role as confessor and counselor.
Deputies now call Tamera Stewart, a petite blond who immediately drives her red Taurus to a crime scene.
Stewart is the first victim advocate to be hired by the Sheriff's Office, which pays her salary and her training and material costs with a $50,000 federal grant.
"They say "body,' I say "loved one,"' Stewart said. "I can't be detached. I'm talking to the family."
Stewart specializes in "crisis intervention," in which she parachutes into a situation and helps family members get through their immediate shock and grief. She also notifies families of the death of a loved one and tells them what to expect from the legal system. She directs them to community resources such as support groups or shelters.
"It helps us mentally," Moore said. "She focuses on the family, and we are free to investigate the case and do our jobs."
Since December, Stewart has focused primarily on domestic violence cases, contacting every victim who files a report of violence with the Sheriff's Office. She contacts 80 to 130 victims each month.
She calls or visits them within 24 hours to make sure they are doing okay and directs them to counseling or explains to them how to file for restraining orders. She also tells them about available funds for crime victims.
She characterizes her style as honest and direct, and says her purpose is to tell families everything she knows about the circumstances of a crime and to calmly take them through what will come next during an investigation.
"What people want is the truth," Stewart said. "That's what I give them."
A Tennessee native, Stewart initially pursued a nursing degree at the University of Tennessee. But during three years of study, she saw patients who were helped physically but not mentally or emotionally.
She thought she could help.
She switched her major to social work and, after graduation, moved to Florida, where she worked for 15 years with the Florida Department of Children and Families in Pinellas and Pasco counties, conducting child abuse investigations and supervising foster care and adoption services.
She has lived in Hernando County for eight years, and wanted to help people in her community, so she applied for the Sheriff's Office job.
Stewart, 38, does not see her work as hand holding.
"I see my role as an educator and a resource provider, which I do as a professional social worker," she said.
Any crime victim may seek assistance from Stewart, who can be reached at 754-6830.
-- Jamie Jones covers law enforcement and courts in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111