Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Help Me Howard: VINE
If you are the victim of a crime you may go to sleep at night worrying that your attacker is getting out of jail. That's why a victim notification network called VINE was created, but now instead of soothing crime victims in Miami-Dade, its scaring one woman, and that's why she called Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Very few people are lucky enough to live in a home their father built, especially when they are 90 years old.
Patrick Fraser: "Why are houses today falling apart, and this one looks like it was built yesterday?"
Peggy: "It's solid, it's solid."
Peggy and her husband Carl are still active, although they can pass on the kind of activity they had a few months ago.
Peggy Seeley: "He came in this door. John obviously locked this door behind him."
A career criminal by the name of John Bellevue broke into their home while being chased by police.
Michael Catalano: "And the police caught the burglar up in the car port and Tasered him to get him down. It was quite a commotion and scared them."
The Sealys are Michael Catalano's godparents. He keeps an eye on them and, as a former Miami-Dade state attorney, kept an eye on their burglar's case.
Michael Catalano: "And told them, relax he is doing his 20 years plus some, and it's a done deal. We'll never see the guy again, and you don't have to worry about again."
They didn't worry ... till Peggy's phone started ringing one night.
Peggy Seeley: "Every two hours, on the half hour, all night long."
Every half hour with this automated message from a 502 area code telling her Bellevue was no longer in their jail.
Operator: "The offender is no longer in the custody of a facility in Miami-Dade Country. The offender was released on February 11th."
Patrick Fraser: "Now what is it like to hear release at 2:30 in the morning?"
Peggy Seeley: "A little bit intimidating."
The message was from a victims' assistance program called VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) and went on to say it's possible the offender was transferred to another jail. Turns out that was true in this case. He was being sent to a state prison, but Peggy didn't know that. The message had a number to call to find out whether an inmate was transferred or released, but the person at that number didn't have any information on inmates status. Michael also got the calls all night and the next morning attempted to stop them.
Michael Catalano: "I'm really irritated because I started at 8:30 in the morning when the State Attorney office opens, and I know who to call. I thought I knew who to call, and I started calling and no one knew what to do."
Peggy and Michael should have been given a PIN number by police to stop the calls. They never got that, so the calls kept coming.
Michael Catalano: "This thing does not tell you how to stop it."
Taxpayers are paying for a system designed to help victims of crimes, but what can they do if it is not working very well?
Howard Finkelstein: "This is a wonderful program because, in the past, victims had no rights. Now, not only do they have a right to be heard in court, they have a right to be told when the criminal is getting out of jail. However, this notification system is, to put it politely, poorly implemented, and taxpayers don't have to put up with that type of service."
The victim notification calls come from a company in Kentucky hired by the state of Florida to send out the messages, but the message is put together by Miami-Dade County Corrections.
We are told it has taken three months to get it corrected because of the number of different government agencies that have to approve the changes. Finally, we got this letter telling us the message had been re-written and a new phone number will be given to victims of crime. Also, the county is meeting with police chiefs in June to remind their officers to tell victims of crime how to stop the recordings calls from VINE.
Peggy Seeley: "When this house was built there was no air-conditioning, so everything was opened up for ventilation."
Peggy's father put holes in the walls for air flow. Michael hopes the county finally can close some loopholes in the VINE message so victims are helped and not hurt.
Peggy Seeley: "I want it to make sense. I mean, it just is ridiculous. This doesn't make sense. If you listen to that recording, it doesn't make sense."
Patrick Fraser: "The government does move slowly. The new message won't be ready for about a month, and until it's recorded that message going out to crime victims today is still the same scary message with the same wrong number.
Calls for help ringing off the hook? Want to send a wake up call? Contact us. It's no crime to ask for help.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday)