HU Psychology Professor Works With Farmington Police Department on Research


Sarah Tracy

Las Vegas, New Mexico – A Highlands University psychology professor collaborated with the Farmington Police Department on research that determines its Victim Advocate Program increases conviction rates.

Sarah Tracy, who teaches at the Highlands University Farmington Center, studied the Farmington Police Department victim advocate database to examine domestic violence cases from 2016.

“Our major finding was that the more contact the victims of domestic violence have with the Victim Advocate Program, the higher the conviction rates,” Tracy said. “This program is most effective when the victim and advocate work closely together to help the victim understand their rights and legal options.”

Tracy said the research is important because it could lead to additional victim advocates for the successful program.

“Chief Steve Hebbe at the Farmington Police Department spearheaded this effort by reaching out to me to assess the efficacy of the Victim Advocate Program. He’s a proactive leader in many ways, from protecting victims to reducing recidivism, which is repeat offenders,” Tracy said.

Tracy worked closely with Detective Lt. Joshua Laino, who heads the Investigations Division for the Farmington Police Department, and victim advocates Amanda Lobato and Sara Holiday on the research project.

“These Farmington police professionals are highly committed and work with a large number of domestic violence cases. Their knowledge of the court system, and willingness to support the victims in person in settings like court hearings, demonstrates their dedication and compassion,” Tracy said.

Laino said most police agencies don’t have full-time victim advocates, depend on volunteers, or have no advocacy program at all.

“For us at the Farmington Police Department, victim advocacy is a very high priority and our program has been in place for roughly 15 years,” Laino said. “When you bring in an expert like Sarah Tracy to independently evaluate your victim advocacy program, you validate its effectiveness and if it’s performing as intended. We’d like to continue this positive partnership with Dr. Tracy. She’s dedicated to the cause and understands the importance of breaking the cycle of violence.”

Laino said in addition to helping domestic violence victims through the prosecution process, the advocates also play a key role in connecting victims with a multitude of other resources that can help them improve their situation, such as family crisis agencies.

Tracy said another important component of the Victim Advocate Program is that it empowers victims.

“It helps them realize that they have some control over the course of their life. This includes their personal safety and their children’s safety. They can also be a positive influence in their community when they pursue domestic violence charges successfully,” Tracy said.

Tracy said the Victim Advocate Program at the Farmington Police Department holds domestic violence perpetrators accountable.

“The perpetrators learn that there will be legal repercussions for their actions, which is a potential deterrent for future violence,” Tracy said.

Tracy holds a doctorate in counseling psychology from New Mexico State University. She joined the Highlands faculty in 2016. Previously, she was a visiting faculty member at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

At Highlands, Tracy teaches courses such as Statistics for Behavioral Sciences, Memory and Cognitive Processes, Drugs and Behavior, Research Methods, and Culture and Mental Illness.

“Undergraduate psychology students assisted me in collecting data for this research study, giving them valuable real-world research experience on a topic that touches too many families locally here in Farmington and nationwide,” Tracy said.

She said that numerous psychology students at the Highlands Farmington Center continue their education at Highlands in the master’s program.

“Having research experience as an undergraduate helps prepare students for the rigor of required graduate-level research,” Tracy said.