CFJ works with law enforcement to break the cycle of abuse

Center for Family Justice staff members pose for a photo with police officers at the center's Law Enforcement Appreciation Breakfast Thursday morning.

BRIDGEPORT, CT — Roderick Porter remembers serving as a court sheriff in Stamford in the 1980s, when domestic violence incidents routinely filled the daily docket, and he saw its effect on children first hand.

While speaking at the Law Enforcement Appreciation Breakfast, held at The Center for Family Justice’s headquarters Thursday morning, Porter recalled seeing a young man, who came to court when his father abused his mother, be arrested for domestic abuse himself two years later.

Bridgeport Police Chief Roderick Porter talks about breaking the cycle of domestic violence. Photo by Julie Banks

As the new chief of the Bridgeport Police Department, Porter vows to educate children in the city’s schools to break the cycle, so they don’t grow up to become victims or abusers themselves.

Porter praised The Center for Family Justice for the proactive work it does on the issue, and expressed a commitment to the partnership between the nonprofit and his department.

“It’s so important that we collaborate, not only with The Center For Family Justice, but with other stakeholders throughout the city, to make sure we come together and solve problems,” he said.

CFJ provides free services, resources and programs for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and child abuse.

Debra Greenwood, president and CEO of CFJ, thanked Porter for his involvement and presented him with a sweatshirt as a show of her appreciation.

On Thursday, police officers from all six of the towns the center serves — Monroe, Easton, Trumbull, Fairfield, Stratford and Bridgeport —- attended the breakfast, which included a spread of bagels and coffee.

Among the officers from Monroe were Police Detective Nicole Buckley and Officer Stacy Cascante.

Greenwood expressed her appreciation for all the dedicated police officers, who are on the front lines every day, responding to unpredictable, and often dangerous, domestic violence calls. Law enforcement works closely with CFJ staff to provide assistance to victims.

The Monroe Police Department was singled out for praise for its annual toy drive for children impacted by abuse.

No heels necessary

Gary MacNamara, a past police chief for the town of Fairfield, speaks at The Center for Family Justice’s Law Enforcement Appreciation Breakfast Thursday morning. Photo by Julie Banks

Led by retired Fairfield police chief, Gary MacNamara, CFJ’s White Ribbon Campaign enjoys strong involvement from local police officers, as men and boys work together to prevent domestic violence.

MacNamara, who is now executive director of Public Safety & Government Affairs at Sacred Heart University, has also led the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event for the past decade.

Men and boys, often wearing women’s shoes, participate in the walk in downtown Fairfield. It’s a “community awareness event where men and boys take the first step to end violence against women and girls.”

Pairs of red pumps were on display in front of the meeting room at CFJ’s headquarters Thursday, and a smiling Greenwood welcomed male officers to try them on.

Greenwood recalled a time when one chief wore a pair of red slippers with small heels for the walk. But she said wearing high heels, or other kinds of women’s footwear, is not a requirement.

“We do not expect any of you to do this,” she said of wearing women’s shoes. “Gary does it. I don’t know how, but he does. We’ve had different gentlemen that have come, different ages, university kids. They sprained their ankles. One gentleman broke his ankle. Just show up. It’s okay. Just having you there would be terrific.”

The 11th annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, presented by Aquarion Water Company, is scheduled to be held Saturday, April 29, at the Fairfield Train Station’s main parking lot. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the walk is at 9. To register, click here.

Educating young people

Bridgeport Police Chief Roderick Porter, left, and Debra Greenwood, president and CEO of The Center for Family Justice, pose for a photo. Photo by Julie Banks

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a spike in domestic violence cases, according to Greenwood, who said the number of male victims also increased.

The Center for Family Justice works with law enforcement, provides legal support for victims, college campus outreach and 24/7 hotlines for help.

When its safe houses for victims of domestic violence ran out of room, the center raised $3.5 million to build Empower House, a larger transitional house.

Due to growing demand, CFJ will soon add square footage from the day care on the lower level of his main building at 753 Fairfield Ave. in Bridgeport, allowing more room for the young people they help.

“We need your help,” Greenwood told police officers at Thursday’s breakfast. “We have to get into the schools.”

During a leadership and empowerment event with the Women’s Advocacy Club at Masuk High School Wednesday, Greenwood asked the 137 students in attendance if they believed discussions on teen dating violence is needed.

“Every hand went up,” she said. “We have to get in front of this. We have to get these numbers down.”

Greenwood said kids with abusive parents must know the behavior at home is not something they should model.

CFJ has initiatives for education, prevention and assistance for victims of child abuse.

A $1.5 million donation from the Elizabeth M. Pfriem Foundation enabled CFJ to establish the Pathways to Hope, a year-round mentoring program which includes Camp Hope America-Bridgeport, a summer camp for former victims of abuse under age 18, who are still recovering from trauma.

Training for the job

Amanda Posila, director of education and community engagement for CFJ, said Connecticut is the only state in the country with 100 percent participation in the Lethality Assessment, “an easy and effective method to identify victims of domestic violence who are at the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners,” according to the Laurel Center.

CFJ offers state-mandated certification training for anyone who works with victims of domestic and sexual violence. Posila said both police officers and professionals enroll in the 40 hours of training.

“I think every police department sent someone,” Posila said, adding the center is offering to waive the $300 fee for up-to-two police officers from each department, who express interest in the certification.

Greenwood noted how help for their clients most often begins with a 911 call to police.

“Our message at The Center for Family Justice is we’re partners with law enforcement,” she said. “We’ll always be by our sides.”

For information on The Center for Family Justice, click here to visit its website.

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