There is a lot of good policing within the city limits of Danbury, whether it’s at Western Connecticut State University or the Danbury Police Department. Over the years, both departments have worked closely with advocates employed by the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury to better serve crime victims and the public. It is the Women’s Center’s mission to serve the needs of individuals, families and the community with prevention, crisis intervention and support services with regard to domestic violence, sexual assault and other major life crises. Because the organization works in collaboration with local law enforcement, the privilege of recognizing officers going above and beyond is often apparent. It is the Women Center’s great pleasure this year, to honor all of the local law enforcement agencies that we partner with in the greater Danbury area.
For 23 years, Chief Roger Connor’s mission has been to provide and maintain a safe learning environment for the students at Western Connecticut State University. It’s a logistical challenge, with both Midtown and Westside campuses, and the chief, a strong believer in community policing, routinely deploys his officers on bicycles outfitted with body cameras. This combination of state-of-the-art technology, established protocols, and an array of education and outreach efforts, ensures that the campus’s zero-tolerance for sexual abuse, harassment, stalking, or violence will be on the front burner. From Connor’s “have a cup with a cop” coffee hours, or the department’s police patrols, officers are visibly present and eager to work with students. Additionally, for the past 10 years, the Women’s Center has operated a satellite office on campus, offering counseling and advocacy as well as assistance in crisis interventions.
“Chief Connor has been 100 percent behind all of our efforts,” Rayna Havelock, one of three advocates, reported recently. “He’s responsive, supportive and committed to keeping the lines of communication open with students and staff.”
“Chief Connor works well with everyone,” agrees Charles Alexander, Director of Judicial Affairs, who oversees the campus judicial board.
Paradoxically, while reported incidents of sexual assault have risen at Western between 2015 and 2016, the increased numbers suggest that the campus’s education and outreach is working.
“Typically, these types of crimes are underreported. We are seeing that more students are feeling supported and are learning about their options which, in turn, makes them feel more comfortable reporting,” Havelock said.
At the Danbury Police Headquarters, the first thing that a visitor notices in the Special Victim’s Unit is a windowsill lined with stuffed animals; then, the conference room tucked away for privacy. This specialized division investigates all sexual assault cases and cases involving serious physical child abuse. As a result, detectives within this unit often work together with the Women’s Center’s court advocates to ensure victims understand the criminal court process, are offered support and are treated fairly throughout the criminal case. Compassion, kindness, and due diligence are the qualities that came to Lynn Nichols’ mind when she was asked to highlight the work of an officer from the Danbury Police Department. That man is Det. Sgt. Gary Guertin, who has been an officer for 18 years and has led the Special Victim’s Unit for the past two years.
“I know he is going to tell you he is just doing his job”, the Women’s Center court advocate forewarned, “but for him, doing his job always means going the extra mile.”
A case in point, she notes, was a two-year investigation that led to a conviction in a particularly brutal sexual assault where the victim was held at gunpoint in her own home. Guertin, realizing the victim was terrified to return to the scene of the crime, accompanied her and kept watch while she packed up. Then, with the help of Ms. Nichols, she relocated to a safe place. In the intervening months, Guertin routinely checked in with her, inquiring about her health and encouraging her to call whenever she felt his division could be of service.
His thorough investigation led to a conviction and a lengthy sentence for the man who abused her. And the victim, though still dealing with PTSD, has returned to work and is rebuilding her life. She told Nichols, her court advocate, that Guertin’s persistence and care were crucial in helping her to begin to recover.
“I will always be thankful to him,” she said.
For his part, Guertin appreciates the skills trained advocates bring to the plate – “they know our role, but they also are so well-versed in criminal investigations that they are great at answering questions and providing support.”
That Danbury is one of the cities within the state with a low crime rate does not mitigate the need for vigilance.
“This is meaningful work,” Det. Sgt. Guertin said.
Chief Connor and Det. Sgt. Guertin’s experience and dedication is clear.
“Domestic violence and sexual assault victims are more likely to report when you have police partnering with advocates,” Nichols said. “When officers recognize and embrace this collaboration, they understand that a team-based approach best serves the victim and the community.”
The Women’s Center of Greater Danbury provides free and confidential services to prevent or lessen the trauma associated with domestic violence, sexual assault and other major life transitions to thousands of women, children and men annually. The programs of the Women’s Center are supported by state and local government, area United Way agencies and the people and businesses in the communities we serve including Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Kent, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield, Roxbury, Sherman, Warren, and Washington.