In the wake of a sudden, traumatic death of a loved one, shocked survivors struggle with the aftermath of grief and the necessity to make practical decisions like funeral arrangements. So last fall, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office launched a victim services unit, which sends volunteers out to aid survivors of “unexpected deaths”–“homicide, suicide, drowning, or fatal crashes, or if there’s a house fire where someone dies,” explains community engagement deputy Jessica Wion.

Twenty-two volunteers, in teams of two, sign up for twelve-hour shifts. In one case in November, two volunteers and a sheriff’s sergeant visited the home of the victim of a fatal car accident to meet the victim’s spouse, family, neighbors, and fellow church members. Says volunteer Edwina Jarrett, “When we realized there were children, we automatically gave them the information about Ele’s Place,” which supports grieving children.

Jarrett learned about the program while attending the sheriff’s Citizen’s Police Academy. Other volunteers were recruited from community groups. All went through twenty hours of training.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton emails that the volunteers “allow our deputies to focus on the accident or crime scene, confident that the victim or family is being well cared for and supported.”

But partly because the service isn’t yet well known, in the program’s first eight months, the volunteers responded to just seven situations (four other families declined assistance). “We are now expanding the type of crime that we will respond to,” Jackson emails, “so I anticipate that number to increase soon.”