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40th anniversary walk raises more than 40K for Safe Futures

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Waterford — When Groton Long Point Police Chief Jeff Nixon looked out into the crowd packed into Crystal Mall early Sunday morning, he almost couldn’t believe his eyes.

It’s not as though he thought turnout for the Safe Futures 40th Anniversary Power of Purple 4K Walk would be small. He just didn’t imagine participants would fill the entirety of the food court.

But fill it they did, raising more than $40,000 in the process.

“It’s amazing,” Nixon said of residents’ generosity. “The recent natural destruction, from Texas to Florida to Puerto Rico, directly affected people right in this region. Yet people still took a piece of their resources and gave it to this cause because it’s that important of an issue to them.”

Sunday’s event wasn’t the first walk of its kind. That happened several years ago, inspired by attorney Sheila Horvitz and the Power of Purple campaign, which aims to raise awareness about and put an end to domestic violence.

But this event was special, meant to honor four decades of Safe Futures’ existence. Horvitz’s key projects, Hadassah of Eastern Connecticut and the POP campaign, still were integral partners in the event, as were Q105 Cumulus, The Day and Simon Property Group, which owns and operates the Crystal Mall.

According to Safe Futures Executive Director Kathleen Verano, the fundraising tally Wednesday evening was $41,750 and counting, as checks still were rolling in. Right now, she said, she plans to put the money toward maintaining core programs, which is no small thing in tough budgetary times.

For his part, Nixon helped raise about $2,000. He put together a team called Community Caretakers and prodded his friends — new and old — to spare what they could. With 21 members, his team received recognition for being among the largest to participate. On Sunday, more than half of them were present to complete the walk.

The issue of domestic violence is one that’s near and dear to Nixon. He was changed when he learned someone close to him had been in an abusive relationship for years.

It’s a story he doesn’t share on the record — it’s not his story to share, after all. But all these years later, he’s still haunted by the fact he didn’t realize what was happening sooner.

“For me, there’s a drive there,” Nixon said.

Now, the chief of police spends his spare time doing all he can to raise awareness about and help mitigate domestic violence. He teaches courses for rising law enforcement officers and existing ones. When the opportunity rises, he sits on roundtables where judicial, probate, law enforcement, advocacy and other disciplines come together. And he has spent much of his time teaching and tweaking the Lethality Assessment Program, which shows officers responding to domestic violence calls how to determine, first, what violence a person has endured and, second, what chance they have to experience future violence.

Departments across the state use the model, which Nixon and Verano got involved with when it was piloted in New London County in 2012. In 2014, Nixon, Verano and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Sarah E. Steere began teaching officers about it during recertification.

By May 2017, Nixon said, they had reached every officer in eastern Connecticut.

The trio still speaks monthly to officers during recertification and frequently updates its spiel. Now, for example, the group’s course features new methods, rooted in science, for identifying evidence of strangulation. There's information, too, about what oxygen deprivation can cause down the road, which includes but isn’t limited to an increased risk of stroke and miscarriage.

Nixon and company also have been discussing a newer aspect of Connecticut law that allows officers to charge a person with suffocation. And they continue to talk about the things that can cause a domestic violence case to fail in court.

It’s all about providing officers with the most useful and pragmatic information possible, Nixon said.

“It’s about teaching them, if they’re not able to identify that somebody was choked or strangled, to at least ask the right questions,” he said. “If I have the gut feeling that something’s not right here, I can encourage the person to go into services. I can say, ‘I know you don’t want to talk right now, but other people in your position have been in situations up to having been killed.’"

“You have to be honest with people,” he said.

l.boyle@theday.com

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