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West Hartford Police Team Up with Domestic Violence Agency for Life-Saving Services

West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick speaks at a ceremony outside the Raymond Road headquarters. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The West Hartford Police Department now has an advocate from Interval House embedded within the department to assist with domestic violence cases.

By Kristina Vakhman

As the COVID-19 pandemic brought the United States to a standstill, quarantine and stay-at-home orders had an inadvertent side-effect: a rise in cases of domestic violence. Connecticut saw a great uptick in the need for help as victims, immobile and trapped at home with their abusers, had little to no way out.

West Hartford has not been an exception. But now victims will have access to live-saving resources thanks to the town’s new partnership with Interval House, Connecticut’s largest domestic violence agency.

“Our numbers were going up. It was just clear to me that we needed the added support,” said Mayor Shari Cantor. “I am thrilled that not only the police and [the Interval House] have an ongoing relationship, [but that] we have that permanent, steady reinforcement through our embedded advocate.”

According to the West Hartford Police Department, there have been 306 total calls for domestic disputes since last March.

Early in the spring, when schools and businesses were closed and most people were staying home out of fear of being infected with COVID-19, domestic violence calls were down, leading to concern that they just weren’t being reported. Once the state began reopening, case counts rose.

The number of calls rose steadily month by month, with late summer seeing the highest peak as the state slowly began reopening. That’s compared to 275 and 233 calls for the same period during 2019-20 and 2018-19 respectively.

Exacerbated by COVID-19, domestic violence advocacy groups have previously reported inbound calls up by 71%. The Interval House itself has been making an increase of 54% more calls to victims, and its shelter is over capacity almost all of the time.

The partnership places an Interval House advocate in West Hartford to work on domestic violence cases. After the police respond to a domestic dispute, they can put a potential victim in contact with the advocate, who will further assess the level of risk to the victim and make follow-up calls.

“It provides a stop-gap for after the arrest where our services end, and Interval House can come in and close that gap for us,” West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick said, adding that he was “enlightened” by the importance of such a program. “It fits in quite nicely.”

Mary-Jane Foster, president and CEO of Interval House. Website photo

With cases up, Interval House’s services in West Hartford can help prevent life-and-death situations. Mary-Jane Foster, president and CEO of Interval House, said that when officers give the Lethality Assessment Program – a questionnaire that determines the risk of future violence and homicide in an abuse case – and move on to their next call, Interval House will take it from there.

“If we can predict homicide, we can prevent it. So we’re very excited about this program and we’re thrilled [to be] working with West Hartford,” Foster said. Interval House also partners with police departments in Hartford, East Hartford, and Manchester.

“It’s not [the police’s] job to circle back to victims of abuse. It’s their job to stay in their regular course of duties,” she continued. “So this is just an added resource. I think we are of great benefit to them in allowing them more time and space to do the work they do and we do the work we do.”

Through this, the partnership with Interval House acts like a supplemental program. Jennifer Lopez, Interval House’s director of court advocacy, said that she’s heard from officers that they often walk away thinking they could have done more for a victim of domestic violence. Now the police have the Interval House’s expertise to help them in their efforts.

“We wanna have a more quality connection with the victim to provide follow-up services. The advocate in West Hartford is now able to provide those services a little bit quicker and assess immediately after the incident happens,” Lopez said.

Local leaders like Cantor have high hopes for the partnership. At a time when abusers even use the coronavirus infection as leverage over their victims – one woman hadn’t seen her child since last spring because the father kept the child under the guise of the lockdown, Foster said – Interval House will provide a much-needed social service in West Hartford.

“I do really believe that people will be helped, there will be families that are supported by this advocate and lives will be saved,” Cantor said.

If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, call the Interval House’s 24/7 bilingual hotline at 888-774-2900 or visit intervalhousect.org.

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