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New Canaan’s violent crime

New Canaan’s violent crime: More reports of domestic violence is reportedly “a good thing.” Pinwheels in front of Vine Cottage Oct. 2 honoring domestic violence victims. — Grace Duffield photo
This month, in recognition of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Police Chief Leon Krolikowski writes about domestic violence describing it as “New Canaan’s violent crime.”
“If you live in New Canaan and you are the victim of violence, it is highly probable that the perpetrator is someone that you love,” said the chief. [The column is scheduled for Advertiser, Oct. 11.]
To add to Krolikowski’s messages, the Advertiser begins a three-part series this week to take our own look into this socioeconomically blind crime that touches one-in-four women in her lifetime and about 15.5 million children every year. Plus, we’ll take a look at ways New Canaan is fighting back.
Defining domestic violence
Domestic Violence, also called intimate partner violence, is characterized as hurtful, repeated and intentional behavior that one person uses to maintain power and control over another in an intimate relationship, according to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Stamford and Norwalk, CT. Behaviors can include verbal, emotional, psychological, physical or sexual abuses in the form of name-calling, threats, put-downs, isolation, withholding of money, physical harm and sexual assault. In Fairfield County, it is the No. 1 call to law enforcement, said Kevin Shippy, the new executive director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Stamford and Norwalk.
Spikes in town
In New Canaan, reported family disputes (which are predominantly, but not exclusively domestic violence incidents, according to police) have fluctuated in the past five years, but have largely gone up. According to the New Canaan Police Department, in 2013, there were 48 reported family disputes involving 32 arrests. In 18 of reported cases, children were present and in eight of them, children were involved.
In 2014, the number of reported family disputes jumped to 84 with 44 arrests (27 disputes had children present and 29 had children involved). In 2015, 52 family disputes were reported with 29 arrests made (13 disputes were in the presence of children and 15 of them involved children). In 2016, police responded to 73 reports and made 51 arrests. Then in 2017, there were 33 reported cases. In 32 cases, children were present, and in 24 cases they were involved.
Since statistics show domestic violence is chronically underreported, Krolikowski said. Spikes in the numbers mean more awareness and education, he said, which leads to more reporting of domestic violence. “People get concerned when they see the numbers escalating but a lot more is happening than gets reported,” he said. Victims should know they can call police for help any time there is violence or threats. There does not have to be a long-term pattern.
Mandatory arrests
“Early intervention usually interrupts the cycle of domestic violence,” said Krolikowski. He said one of the big steps toward progress he has seen was 25 years ago when Connecticut changed the domestic violence laws to require police to arrest an abuser rather than leaving it up to the victim to decide if they want an arrest made. “Mandatory arrests of domestic violence offenders also interrupts the cycle of violence and gets the victim and offender into programs that provide essential resources such as substance abuse, anger management, relationship skills and behavioral health,” added Krolikowski.
Crisis Center
That’s where organizations like the Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC) come in. “We are the only domestic violence crisis center serving seven communities,” said Shippy. Serving Stamford, Norwalk, New Canaan, Weston, Darien, Wilton, and Westport, the DVCC provides food, clothing, communications, security and resources for anyone who comes to them in need of help. They also have a legal team present at every domestic violence arraignment in Stamford and Norwalk courts.
“We advocate for the victims, talk to them about their rights and the different services we have,” said Shippy. “Everything is confidential and free of charge.” They operate two safe houses, which are currently over capacity, help with transitional housing and offer legal advice regarding divorce or alimony if needed. Excluding the cities, New Canaan had the second largest number of arraignments DVCC attended among all five towns last year. In fiscal year 2017-2018, there were 33 in New Canaan compared to 55 in Westport, 32 in Wilton, 19 in Darien and 17 in Weston.
“People think domestic violence only touches the underprivileged and underserved populations when, in fact, that is not at all the case. It is the most frequent call to the police in those towns,” said Shippy. He added that statistically, the highest number of calls comes in on Superbowl Sunday. Second and third are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Dede Bartlett, who chairs a partnership against domestic violence in New Canaan, which celebrates 15 years this month, said the growing reports to DVCC and police are a testament to the hard work professionals and concerned citizens have done over the years to educate people about domestic violence so they recognize it and know when and how to get help.
Getting help
Bartlett is a former vice president at Phillip Morris where she organized domestic violence education programs for 100,000 employees in the United States. She said because of its broad scope, sometimes victims know something isn’t right in the relationship but don’t know they are victims of domestic violence. “It’s going to be different for each person and understanding you are a victim of partner violence is a very emotional, shameful experience,” said Bartlett. “No one wants to believe they can be controlled and humiliated by somebody else.”
She recalled one story of a woman she worked with at Phillip Morris that illustrates that sometimes domestic violence is difficult to identify: “We put small cards in all the bathroom stalls in the men’s and women’s rooms across the country. One woman in the public relations department read the little card in the bathroom describing what partner violence is: control, fear, anxiety, abuse — emotional, physical, economic, sexual. She told me it wasn’t until she read this that she understood.” She was going through a difficult divorce. While coming back from a weekend away with her small children in the car, her husband, in another car, tried to run her off the road. “She realized it might not just be high emotion from an unpleasant divorce,” said Bartlett.
It is why the partnership, which brings together experts from the police force, DVCC, social workers, school counselors and other professionals, coordinates efforts to educate New Canaan, particularly the youth, about domestic violence. Among October awareness efforts: a program called Purple Pinwheels at Vine Cottage on October 1 with incoming seventh graders from New Canaan’s National Charity League. On October 17 at 9:15 a.m., Bartlett and the first selectman will be in front of New Canaan High School for the annual Domestic Violence Proclamation to talk to students there. “It’s a pretty interesting event,” said Bartlett of the high school proclamation. “You can see on the kids’ faces that on some level it gets through. This is not something out of their world. They see it in sports figures, entertainment. They understand very much what’s going on.”
This is the first in a three-part series on domestic violence. Next week, we talk to experts about more ways New Canaan is addressing the issue right here at home.
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