Greiber's cost-cutting draws fire

September 22, 1994|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

Republican state's attorney candidate John R. Greiber's proposal to replace paid victims' advocates with volunteers has come under criticism from the leader of one of the state's most prominent victims' rights group.

"Volunteers sounds good," Roberta Roper, founder of the Stephanie Roper Committee, said yesterday. "But I know as a director of a volunteer, grass-roots organization, it has never come close to meeting the needs of court."

Mr. Greiber made the proposal Monday night in a meeting with representatives of the county police union. Frank R. Weathersbee, the Democratic incumbent, quickly issued a press release denouncing the proposal as being insensitive to victims' rights.

"The elimination of professional victim services is tantamount to eliminating victims' rights in Anne Arundel County," Mr. Weathersbee said.

But Mr. Greiber insisted yesterday he is "not against victims' rights."

"I am not talking about dismantling the victims' program," he said. "Just staffing it with volunteers."

But volunteers could not provide the expertise needed to handle victims and witnesses in complicated child abuse, rape or murder cases, Mr. Weathersbee countered.

While Mr. Greiber said the advocates do not need any training and do not do anything that a volunteer could not, Mr. Weathersbee said all the advocates have college degrees and are trained in crisis intervention.

"His comments suggest a lack of appreciation for victims' struggles," he said. "In a world where the criminal justice system is a mystery to most people, including Mr. Greiber, professional victims service providers are needed."

Mr. Greiber told police union officials he would overhaul the victims advocate section of the state's attorney's office, using a Montgomery County program as a model.

"I would think that a paid staff of two people to oversee the volunteers would be enough here," he said. "The paid staff people would go to court, do the crisis intervention."

Vicki Rapoport, a victim advocate in Montgomery County, said her office, which is not connected with the state's attorney, has three paid advocates and two therapists. Montgomery County also has two other programs with paid staffs that work with sexual assault and child abuse victims.

The Montgomery County Police Department has a group of volunteers that refer victims to the programs but do not do the crisis intervention work, accompany victims to court or refer them to other agencies that can help them, she said.

Anne Arundel County has eight paid victim advocates in the state's attorney's office who work in Circuit and District Court. The program costs about $370,000 a year.

Mr. Greiber said he would eliminate six advocates and use the savings to hire more assistant prosecutors.

"I want to use the vast pool of victims out there like Roberta Roper," he said "It would be a savings to taxpayers at a time when crime is rising and we could use more prosecutors."

Mrs. Roper formed the Stephanie Roper Committee 12 years ago after her daughter was murdered in Prince George's County.

Mr. Weathersbee also criticized Mr. Greiber for referring to the advocates as "huggers," during the union meeting. Some say it is a common term around the court house.

"We all call them huggers," said Timothy Murnane, a defense attorney who lost a bid for Mr. Weathersbee's job in 1990 and is a supporter of Mr. Greiber.

But Mrs. Roper said she was offended by the remark.

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