JOHNSTOWN - Randy Smith, Fulton County's first and only crime- victim services coordinator, is reflecting on a career of helping thousands of people as she nears retirement after 20 years in the position.
The 62-year-old Gloversville resident has worked as an advocate for victims of crimes, from simple harassment violations to the most horrendous murders. Through it all, Smith has focused on the victims.
"That's been my calling," Smith said last week. "I think my calling is to be compassionate, understanding and have sympathy and a dedication to their types of matters."
She credits her fellow staff members, the dedication of police and the Department of Social Services, and agencies such as Planned Parenthood in helping her do her job.
"I pride myself on my professionalism," she said.
Smith's office on the second floor of the County Office Building is tucked away in a wing of the office of District Attorney Louise Sira.
Smith, who is retiring Oct. 12, said in her 20 years of work, she estimates she's helped "thousands" of victims and their families - as well as indirect victims - with free services.
She has worked day and night to help them deal with situations in the aftermath of crime.
In recent years, Smith's services have been mainly centered on crimes going through Gloversville City Court.
She is aided by Crime Victim Services Assistant Stephanie Porter, who may succeed Smith.
Fulton County Court Judge Richard C. Giardino, as a new district attorney in July 1992, hired Smith as a way to help sometimes forgotten crime victims. He recognized they often had no place to go and might benefit from a person like Smith.
Giardino also knew Smith was a foster-care mother. Smith has been a foster parent for 24 years for more than 100 children, adopting four of them.
At the time, Smith was an older person returning to school and earning an associate degree in human services from Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
"Randy stood out because of her background of helping people. Her personality and character fit like a hand in glove," Giardino said.
Current District Attorney Louise Sira said Smith has sat through many lengthy trials, at the side of victims and their families. She said Smith's presence relieves some of the victims' suffering.
"She's a tremendously caring person," Sira said. "She's incredibly kind."
Smith said that just after Giardino started as district attorney in 1992, he immediately thought of the victims of the criminals he was prosecuting.
"One of his platforms was getting a victim advocacy program in the office," she said.
She said Giardino applied for and received grant money through the state. The state has since set up its own state Crime Victim Services Office in Albany.
During her career, Smith has assisted victims of crimes such as domestic violence, rape and child abuse. She's also helped families in vehicular homicide cases.
Smith offers advice, helps out with paperwork, and even serves as a shoulder to cry on.
When arrests happen, she said, she and Porter are there for the victims through immediate outreach.
"I think we're a very well-known and recognized program," Smith said. "Unfortunately, I wish I could say crime has lessened."
Sometimes, Sira conducts meetings with as many as 20 family members of a victim, and Smith said she does what she can to provide support for everyone.
Smith said when she learns of the arrest, her outreach begins and she assesses the situation with either the victim or the victim's family. She goes through with the victims how prosecution of alleged defendants will proceed. That includes information about arraignments, adjournment dates and the setting up of orders of protection. She also helps with transportation.
She speaks with victims about their eligibility for compensation from the state, assisting them through that process.
"You take into account what the needs may be," Smith said.
She helps the victim and their families in writing victim impact statements that are read in court at the time of sentencing.
"When you have a victimization that affects a number of family members, that's when you find yourself making a multitude of contacts," she said.
Meetings between Smith and victims or their families generally take place at Sira's office. They also may take place at courts or at the Fulton County Child Advocacy Center on Meadow Street. Smith used to meet at people's homes, but that became increasingly difficult for her own safety over the years.
Along the way, the crime-victim services coordinator has answered many questions to help lessen the confusion for the victim.
"A lot of people are not of the understanding of the criminal justice process," Smith said. "I'm here to explain what might happen at the trial."
Smith said she has received outstanding feedback from the people she's helped over the years.
"The majority of them are grateful for the services that are provided," she said.
Occasionally, she said, victims and their families will become unhappy with the justice system. She said people are seldom happy with how much time a criminal gets, wishing the penalty were more severe.
She also has to explain to some victims that the system can't get "blood out of a stone" regarding offenders paying restitution to victims.
Outside the office, Smith has been on the Citizens In Community Services board for 20 years. She's been a community services manager and has served on the Fulton County Domestic Violence Task Force and the Fulton County Child Abuse Investigative Team.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at email@example.com