The UCF Police Department introduced a new soft interview room Tuesday morning designed to make talking about assault a little more comfortable for victims.
UCF Police Chief Richard Beary introduced the new interview room as an upgrade from the previous interview room; the soft room features comfortable seating, warm lighting and welcoming decorations.
“Today we are are here to dedicate what we call our soft room,” Beary, 58, said. “And while it doesn’t change the violent crimes that may happen, it does provide an opportunity for the victims to come forward in a safe, comfortable atmosphere, and by doing that, it is great first step in helping them heal.”
UCF PD’s goal is to better serve victims of crimes such as sexual assault and stalking by having an atmosphere that makes them feel safe sharing their stories, UCF PD spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said.
On UCF’s main campus from 2015 to 2016, domestic violence increased by 100 percent, jumping from zero reports in 2015 to three reports in 2016; dating violence rose from 14 reports to 18 reports, an increase of 22.2 percent; and reports of stalking increased by 24 percent, from 19 reports to 25 reports, according to the UCF 2017-18 Annual Safety Guide.
However, reports of sexual offense decreased by 18.75 percent, from 19 reports to 16 reports, according to the same source.
The room was transformed into a more relaxing setting through funding by Veronica Figueroa, a Re/Max real estate agent. Philanthropy is important to both Figueroa and her husband Tony, she said.
UCF PD Officer Pablo Vargas, a former client of Figueroa’s, knew of Figueroa’s passion for the community and asked her to help, Figueroa said.
Figueroa said she immediately jumped on the opportunity to help and donated money for interior decorators to renovate the room.
Director of UCF Victim Services Christine Mouton explained the importance of the new decor such as the calming blue and gray color scheme and the availability of decorative pillows or a soft blanket.
“It takes away some of the intimidation,” Mouton said. “A regular interview room is usually stark and naked, and it is just a table and a few chairs, no pictures to soften for someone who is already feeling really tense.
“I think this will help them relax and feel more comfortable talking to a law enforcement investigator. We want them to feel more relaxed, feel like they’re being listened to.”
Mouton presented a Re/Max Innovation award to Veronica and Tony Figueroa to thank them for helping create the soft room.
Before cutting the ceremonial blue and white ribbon officiating the new room, Figueroa spoke about her family.
“Our children also attend UCF, so this is really near and dear to my heart when I heard about the opportunity,” Figueroa said. “This safe room means a lot to not just UCF but also to myself and my husband.
“The healing process starts within this room.”
Figueroa concluded her speech with hope for future victims.
“I just want every single victim to know that there is hope after you go through this,” she said. “And we hope that this is the beginning for you to feel safe and begin the healing process.”