Sgt. Richard Sawyer and Lindsey Michaels walk side-by-side to a police patrol car, discussing case numbers. Sawyer is in full uniform, Michaels only owns a bulletproof vest. It is not your typical police partnership.
"It is a crucial component of combating domestic violence, by showing police and advocates working together," said Michaels.
Michaels works for Safe Futures, a non-profit helping victims of domestic violence, as a Law Enforcement Victim Advocate. She is embedded in nine police departments across Southeastern Connecticut.
"When they see an advocate and police working as a team, victims understand that they are not there to just leave them alone," said Katherine Verano, CEO of Safe Futures.
The Victim Advocate Law Enforcement program, or VALE, dates back to 2005. Norwich Police Department started the program with Safe Futures and has kept it funded, through grants with the city and other sources, since the program's inception.
"This is something that works," said Lt. John Perry with the Norwich Police Department. "We need to do whatever we can to provide these services, not only to the officers, but to the community."
Just last year alone, Michaels handled more than 450 cases in Norwich.
This year Safe Futures was awarded a grant from the Office for Victims of Crime to expand the program and offer it to all of the police departments in Southeastern Connecticut.
"Partnerships are critical in the work we do," said Verano.
In July, Safe Futures put a call out to the police departments, asking them to join the program at no cost. The police departments are required to sign a memorandum of understanding with Safe Futures.
According to Michaels, because of the grant, she is now working with the Town of Groton, Groton Long Point, Stonington, Ledyard, New London, Waterford, East Lyme and Montville.
Norwich is maintaining their VALE program through their separate grant.
Michaels mostly works on follow-up calls. She goes to each department on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, depending on needs. Police accompany Michaels on unscheduled follow-up visits to a victim's home to check in and make sure they are aware of all of the resources available.
Michaels also pours over police reports and said she can sometimes pick up on red flags that police might miss or not be aware of, like a history of calls to an address. Sometimes victims will call Safe Futures and appear in their call history logs, but not call police, according to Michaels.
"I can say, 'hey we have had contact with this person for several years and now we have the chance to show them police and an advocate working together,'" Michaels explained. "So maybe they will feel a little bit more comfortable in the future and if they are in a dangerous situation they can call police."
According to Verano, domestic violence cases make up more than 35 percent of the court dockets across Connecticut.
In the Town of Groton, Sgt. Richard Sawyer estimated that about one-third of their calls are domestic violence-related. Groton is one of the new departments working with Michaels. Sawyer said Michaels fills a gap in the department.
"We would love to follow up on every single case we have with domestic violence, but the reality is we are sent on a call the minute we are done with that case," said Sgt. Sawyer. "We are just spinning our wheels because we can make the arrest, we can give them a victim's rights card, but when we leave, that is the hardest part."
In Norwich, the last three murders were related to domestic violence.
"The more that we can catch and follow up and provide services to those in need, especially when it comes to domestic violence, the better it is," said Lt. Perry.
According to Verano, one in four women and one in seven men will experience intimate partner domestic violence. Last year Safe Futures helped more than 7,000 people, but Verano said, given that statistic, they are missing victims within Southeastern Connecticut who they want to help.
Michaels stressed that domestic violence does not discriminate. It affects all kinds of people and, she said, people can help by shining a spotlight on the problem.
"Making it a topic of conversation so that people are not afraid to talk about it," said Michaels. "It is happening every single day. There is a great chance that someone in your life that you know is dealing with this."
The federal grant will only fund the program for the police departments, not including Norwich, for one year. Verano is hoping they will find funding to continue the program for long after.
Sawyer said that it is important to the Town of Groton that Michaels continues to assist their officers.
"Safe Futures is that bridge to get the victims the help they need," said Sgt. Sawyer. "If you don't have to go back to that house and see them victimized again, that is what it is all about."