SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The interviews weren't real, but it will be soon for these law enforcement officers. Thirty of them from across South Mississippi finished their week-long training to become licensed in child forensic interviewing.
Actors helped officers to learn specialized techniques in order to obtain accurate information from child victims. It was an idea started this year district attorneys Joel Smith and Tony Lawrence in hopes to meet a huge need.
Sgt. Kristen Seibert with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department was among those who received the training.
"I, personally, work a lot of these cases and know these cases are on the rise in every state across this country, and I think having the training to be able to assist in these cases is very vital," Seibert said.
The training was conducted by The Children's Advocacy Centers of Mississippi. Dr. Lisa Yazdani was the lead trainer.
"It was a 40-hour training that blends kind of the scientific background, the bookwork, along with the hands-on experiential training," she said.
The cost of the training was paid for using proceeds from asset forfeitures connected to illegal drugs.
Each law enforcement agency within the two districts sent a representative to become certified. The agencies have also entered into an agreement to assist each other with interviews when the need arises.
The previous system was based on grants, so the DA's office would hire a forensic interviewer. But as soon as the grant ran out, the interviewer was gone.
Now, both Smith and Lawrence said the trained officers, who are already on the public payroll, represent a more consistent and dependable process.
"You cannot overstate the impact that this training will have on the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases here on the Gulf Coast," Smith said. "The protection of children as prosecutors and law enforcement officers has to be a top priority for us."