SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — The San Marcos Police Department announced it has a new space aimed at creating compassion, safety and comfort.

“Survivors of crime, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and children in traumatic situations will be able to use a ‘soft interview room’ to get the appropriate help they need,” the City of San Marcos’ news release said.

According to the release, the room features the following:

  • Soft lighting
  • White noise
  • Soft textiles like couches and blankets
  • Toys
  • Bean bag chair

“In this kind of a setting, we’re able to sit, relax, hear their story, give them their voice back. When they do that, we see those walls come down a little bit because they’re in a safe environment, physically and emotionally,” said San Marcos Police Department Administrative Coordinator Tammy Strakos.

  • San marcos police department soft interview room
  • San marcos police department soft interview room
  • San marcos police department soft interview room
  • San marcos police department soft interview room

This space is meant to create a comfortable environment where survivors will meet with a variety of people like the SMPD Mental Health Unit, Child Protective Services and others.

The inspiration behind it

The idea came to San Marcos Daytime Patrol Sgt. Andrew Sparenberg.

One night he was tasked with watching over three children waiting for child protective services and family to arrive.

“They ended up in my office watching videos sleeping on a sleeping bag on the floor,” Sparenberg said. “This went on for hours at that time.”

It got him thinking about a personal experience years ago when he had to pick up his loved ones who were victims of a crime.

“They were sleeping on the sofa,” he said. “That was something that I thought we should have.”

The city said the room was made possible thanks to a donation from Kissing Tree Backs Our Blue, a neighborhood non profit that helped with the money to create the space.

‘A room that can give you a hug’

Denise Fonseca is a domestic abuse survivor. She found herself in traditional interview rooms before.

“Cold and drab,” Fonseca said as she described the rooms. “They have no imagination. They have no warmth.”

The experience prompted her to start Room2Hope, a non profit that transforms interview and waiting rooms.

  • Room2Hope
  • Room2Hope
  • Room2Hope
  • Room2Hope
  • Room2Hope

“I started with victim waiting rooms in courthouses,” she said. “I was approached by the Hays sheriff’s department asking me if I would do their interview room.”

Fonseca said she can remember feeling cold and thirsty while in the traditional interview rooms. She made it a point to make sure that wasn’t an issue in the Room2Hope spaces.

“I provide blankets that they can take home, because you’re cold,” Fonseca said. “Putting in a little refrigerator stocked with bottles of water is a lovely touch. But it also has a very practical application.”

While nothing can change what’s happened to a victim, Fonseca said having a safe space can help in their next steps.

“Having a room that can give you a hug, gives you the strength to give a better interview, and therefore help the law enforcement to do their job,” Fonseca said.

A growing trend

According to the release, soft interview rooms are becoming more common at both law enforcement agencies and university campuses across the country.

In 2019, the Austin Police Department unveiled six remodeled interview rooms.

They’re meant to be more comforting to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The Kyle Police Department confirmed with KXAN that it has a soft interview room in its new facility as well.