Ottawa County creating $1 million crime victim assistance fund

OTTAWA COUNTY, MI — With an increasing number of domestic violence cases in recent years, Ottawa County has decided to set aside $1 million in federal funding for a new countywide crime victim fund.

Money from the new fund is expected to help pay for rent and other expenses a victim may encounter while their case is being prosecuted.

The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a 2021 federal COVID-19 stimulus spending package. In total, Ottawa County received $57 million from ARPA.

Of that total, $1 million has been allocated to the new Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Crime Victim Assistance Fund, which will provide funding to victims of crime, especially in domestic violence and homicide cases.

Previously, the county received some money from the state for a similar purpose, but that amount fluctuated from year to year. This year, the county got $13,398 from the state of Michigan and is expected to get $11,877 next year.

“Last year, we used up all the state money in less than nine months,” said Ottawa County Prosecutor Lee Fisher. “By starting our own county crime victim fund, we’ll have funds available in case we run out of the state funds.”

Fisher said the fund will be self-perpetuating, with the entire $1 million principal being invested in the Grand Haven Community Foundation. Whatever money that $1 million makes in interest each year will be used for crime victims. Although an exact interest rate has not yet been determined, Fisher said a conservative estimate of 2% interest would still provide $20,000 for crime victims.

“We saw this need to help out crime victims and that’s one of our main focuses,” Fisher said.

Trials for major crimes can last several months and sometimes more than a year. During that time, crime victims or their families may need help with being able to pay rent, keep a cell phone or other costs.

“A lot of times when victims are going through domestic violence or criminal sexual conduct cases, those tend to drag out,” Fisher said. “Especially with domestic violence, the partner that’s charged (with a crime) will try to take away resources from the victim so they can’t pay rent or food or utilities. In situations like that, it’s a way we can help keep victims going and get them through this process.”

Fisher said the prosecutor’s office has also seen a need in homicide cases for paying for a headstone for the victim, which this new fund could do.

“We can help them out, we want to use this money to keep them living their lives,” he said.

The Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Crime Victim Assistance Fund will not be used for any restitution, which is money the offender owes the victim through a court order. Instead, this fund will be used to help victims out and keep them safe during the legal process. It’s fairly common for a domestic violence abuser to break or take away a victim’s cell phone, so Fisher hopes the fund can be used to make sure victims have cell phones to call 911 and stay safe from their abuser.

In recent years, there has been an increase in domestic violence cases in Ottawa County, making the need for funds to help victims even more critical. According to the 2021 prosecutor’s office annual report, there were 807 domestic violence cases last year, up 5.4% from the 766 cases in 2020. Criminal sexual conduct cases are also on the rise, increasing 38.4% from 2020 to 2021.

“I’m just excited we can continue to help these people,” Fisher said. “Their lives have been turned upside down by the crime, it can turn the entire family’s life upside down. If there’s any little thing we can do to help them, that’s what I’m most excited about.”

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