Who are you going to call?

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Audra M. Hornbacher
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
When the term "Security Forces" is brought to an individual's attention, the most common associations are of intimidating Airmen who wear guns, flak vests and blue berets. The first thought doesn't always include people who are here to help - people who are the first responders in a time of need.

The 28th Security Forces Squadron Investigations Office plays an important role as first responders - especially in matters of sexual assault involving Ellsworth's own. Although these four investigators also take on cases including fraud and high value larceny, they are here to ensure victims of inappropriate touching or unwanted sexual contact are getting the help that they need.

"Anything that is not penetration falls under our tree," said Staff Sgt. Alexander Mendes, 28th SFS investigator.

When the 28th SFS is dispatched to an alleged sex crime, the investigators are notified. According to Robert O'Brien, a 28th SFS detective since 2008, they establish whether the victim feels safe and if they need immediate medical assistance.

"The bottom line is, we want to know what happened and what we can do to help," O'Brien said of their initial investigation. "Even though in our investigations we serve somewhat as first responders, our main priority is to help the victim."

In the event the victim does not feel safe, investigators will request potential no-contact orders to the suspect. Constant periodic checks with the victim ensure they're progressing and getting the help needed.

Depending on specific elements of the case, more than one of the four investigators may be involved, and one assigned as the lead.

"We all have cases going on continuously," said Mendes. "Anytime we need help, every investigator will be brought in for the investigation. Even if they aren't directly involved, we do a lot of round-table meetings to discuss what our next actions will be."

Whether the case lasts for a couple of weeks, or several months, an in-depth analysis of the situation is required to move forward. Witnesses, the victim and the suspect are questioned to paint a picture of what happened during the assault.

"The first time we make contact with the victim, we're there to listen," said O'Brien. "We're giving them the opportunity to tell their story. We take notes throughout and try to pick up on certain things. Sometimes they're too emotional to question, so we'll take our time until they get to a point where they're able to answer more specific questions."

After witnesses and the victim have been interviewed and all evidence has been collected, interrogating the suspect is more straight-forward.

"With the suspect interview, we're looking for signs of deception," said Mendes. "Sometimes interviews can be very quick. But, I've been in interviews that can take several hours."

According to both investigators, alcohol and being alone are common contributing factors. They agree that Airmen should monitor the amount of alcohol they consume and stick to the wingman concept.

"A lot of cases, whether male or female, they're always by themselves," said O'Brien. "Events have happened throughout the night that will cause their friends to leave. Then, all of a sudden the victim is in a scenario that isn't good. Always stick with your friends when you're drinking."

He also said underage victims who have been assaulted shouldn't be afraid to seek help from them. Although underage drinking is against the law, the investigators ensure their priority lies with the assault.

"If a victim comes forward to report, we're interested in the crime," said O'Brien. "We just want to know what happened. Our job is not to get you in trouble, but we appreciate the truth."

The men who work the investigation office for the 28th SFS had one message to convey to victims. They're here for support despite the impressions that others may have, whether it is positive or negative.

"We're here to help," O'Brien said. "If we get a complaint, no matter what it is, our main goal is to help people. That's our job. Once we help people, our job is to fact-find - to figure out what exactly is going on."

To report any crime, contact the 28th SFS at (605) 385-4001.