Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission selects new director
Everette Johnson says immediate goal is reducing backlog of claims
Everette Johnson bows his head in prayer at an event celebrating Miriam Shehane on April 13, 2023. Johnson has been named the new director of the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission. (Ralph Chapoco/Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission has a new leader to spearhead its mission for assisting victims and their families.
Everette Johnson was appointed as the executive director of the agency at the beginning of the month, replacing Kim Martin who had been serving on an interim basis.
“When learning of this position, I felt that this would be tremendous opportunity to serve again,” Johnson said Thursday when asked about why he applied for the position. “As a former police officer, I saw the struggles that victims endured. I felt that this would afford me the chance to give something back to the community. This is the only agency that I am aware of that actually gives back in a substantial way.”
The appointment comes after a four-month search and as the commission has been struggling to make timely payments to victims of crime.
Former Executive Director Teresa Jones resigned in early January after serving as the leader of the agency for 13 months. She had worked for the commission since 2012.
Johnson served with the Montgomery Police Department for 20 years, where he worked on victims’ cases. He also spent time at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Criminal Justice Information Services. After retiring from the Montgomery Police Department, he helped start the police department at Faulkner University.
Commissioners had been looking for a specific set of skills in the new director to aid in the agency’s mission to serve victims of violent crimes.
“As far as my thought process, I had in mind someone who had a certain skill set,” said Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones, a member of the commission. “Among them being experienced in criminal justice-related fields, experience with management of an organization, of a number of persons within an organization as opposed to being a business owner who managed themselves.”
They were also looking for someone who had experience applying for grants and understood the legislative process. They wanted a person who had relationships with various people in government, such as the legislature, who could advocate on behalf of the agency.
The Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission was established in 1984 to provide compensation to victims of violent crime and their families. People seeking compensation from the commission generally have up to a year from the crime to apply for assistance and they can receive aid for funeral expenses, medical care, and lost wages.
Commissioners began screening more than 20 applicants in February, looking for people who had the requisite background, experience, and connections. They took special interest in those who had some type of experience working with crime victims.
They also wanted someone who is a strong leader that can direct the agency through some of its challenges.
Some victims and their families have been waiting up to a year to receive their compensation. Some also criticized agency staff who they believe had not responded to their requests for updates regarding their application or needed additional information from the Commission.
Their frustrations with the process culminated in protest led by Faith In Action Alabama, a Birmingham-based organization that has been helping victims apply for aid.
Martin, who was the director at the time, said it was a matter of funding. The agency receives the bulk of its awards through fines and fees that are levied on people with moving violations, court costs and restitution payments.
Those funding streams have continued to dwindle for the past decade. Costs, however, continue to increase. That has led the agency to cut staff responsible for reviewing claims that have been submitted to the Commission, which is one of the main reasons for the delays.
Johnson said his immediate goal is to find some way to reduce the backlog of claims. Once on board he began reviewing the process and implementing changes.
“Honestly there were some claims that didn’t meet the criteria of being serviced,” Johnson said. “They were for property crimes. We service victims of violent crimes. We don’t deal with property crime claims. We are not an insurance agency. We are an assistance agency.”
Johnson said he is looking to move the application online instead of completing it with pen and paper.
He is also beginning to meet with legislators to address the funding shortfalls of the Commission. It is becoming increasingly clear that additional funding streams are necessary. Commissioner Darlene Hutchinson has also been meeting with legislators for a General Fund allocation.
Initial estimates of the request stand at about $5 million. That is in addition to the money the agency already receives through fines and fees. Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, who chairs the General Fund, has expressed a willingness to provide funding.
“We keep reminding them who we are, what we need, what victims need, more than anything,” Hutchinson said. “We keep reminding them, ‘these are your constituents that we are trying to serve.’”
Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposed General Fund budget included $100,000 for the commission, administered through Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL), a victims’ rights organization. The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Wednesday approved a budget that increased that to $500,000.
Johnson wants to solidify the work of the Commission.
“My long-term vision is to go back to our mission statement,” he said. “I want us to provide timely and efficient assistance to victims. I want us to have the means to provide not just financial assistance, but to be a resource for victims to help them obtain the services they need in order to recover from their ordeals.”
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