APD Victim’s Assistance Unit expands to help families of crash victims
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Three years after forming the Victim’s Assistance Unit to help families affected by violent crime, Albuquerque police are expanding it.
In 2024, the unit will include families affected by deadly and serious injury crashes.
“Nobody’s expecting somebody to die in a fatal crash. And so a lot of times, with our type of incidents, it’s your loved one who went out to work today,” said Sgt. James Burton, who has worked with APD’s Fatal Crash Unit for more than a decade.
Leaders like Burton say serious crashes can be some of the hardest investigations within APD.
“I will tell you that, sometimes the vehicle crashes are some of the most horrendous scenes that you are going to and all the things that you’re going to witness as a police officer,” he said.
They add it’s a significant change because they will now have support from advocates in the unit.
“It’s just vitally important that we’re helping those victims who are going through a really tough time,” said Terry Huertaz, a victim liaison manager at APD.
Huertaz has managed the unit since it started. She has seen families through homicide investigations, domestic violence incidents and missing persons cases.
That experience will now be used to help families affected by deadly and serious injury crashes.
“I would never want to compare crimes. But there’s a lot of similarities on a vehicular homicide and a homicide,” Huertaz said.
She says families can feel the same type of a trauma from an unexpected, senseless tragedy. Some can also face the same legal processes.
That means an investigation, a trial, sentencing and everything that comes with each step.
“It impacts the immediate family, the extended family, work families, neighbors. It impacts all of us,” Huertaz said.
According to APD, officers investigated 76 deadly crashes and 52 serious injury crashes in 2023. They average around 130 per year.
That is just slightly more than the average number of homicides in Albuquerque in recent years.
“You’re asking a person to come to terms with something that one they were not expecting. Two, it is incredibly violent. And three, it may mean that they never see the loved one outside of the last time they said hello,” Sgt. Burton said.
Now, they have someone to help them through the process.
“To have somebody who will just say, ‘Hey, I will hold your hand. I will walk alongside you. We will get through this together.’ Sometimes that’s all somebody needs,” said.
APD has eight victim advocates now. Leaders are working to figure how to best expand the unit without sacrificing the quality of its work.