MALTA – Recently retired Stillwater Police Chief Ray Cordani was more than halfway into his nearly 30-year career with the force in 2003.
Cordani said he was going through property from adjudicated cases one day when a resident who worked with an advocacy group for domestic violence victims was in the station for an unrelated matter.
She saw Cordani with three old cellphones and asked what he planned to do with them.
The advocate suggested her group could give them to domestic violence victims to call 911 on their abusers.
Cordani said the seed was planted in his mind for a broader effort to collect cellphones.
He got permission from his chief and the Stillwater Police Department began a program that, to date, has collected more than 6,600 cellphones that were donated to organizations like Wellspring and the Mechanicville Area Community Center, which also has a domestic violence services program.
The phones are cleared of old memory and programmed to only be able to call 911.
During a press event Tuesday at Wellspring’s new 8,000-square-foot building on Route 9, the acknowledgement of Cordani’s efforts were considered “bittersweet.”
That’s because, with Cordani’s retirement late last month, he is passing the baton for collecting cellphones to longtime partners Maggie Fronk, Wellspring’s executive director, and Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen.
Cordani said the scourge of domestic violence doesn’t seem to be going away, and from time to time, he hears people say domestic violence is a private matter.
The notion is wrong, he said.
In addition to the direct impact to victims, the children who are subjected to domestic violence tend to model the behavior, Cordani suggested.
“The only way they know how to deal with stress and anxiety and mood swings is through abuse and violence,” Cordani said. “It’s a learned behavior.”
The abuse sometimes travels to the victims’ place of employment by way of annoying and harassing behavior by the abuser, rendering coworkers as collateral damage, Cordani said.
“How about the families of victims, knowing that their loved ones are in danger most of the time and there’s nothing they can do about it?”
Neighbors and their children also tend to be exposed to “the sights and sounds of domestic violence and abuse,” the retired chief said.
“So I really don’t want to hear about that as a private matter,” he said while asking for tougher laws against repeat abusers who are out on bail.
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo echoed the sentiment, suggesting the advocates engage state Assembly members and senators in the area to work to force state lawmakers to strengthen domestic violence laws and try to adjust bail reform laws.
Zurlo said his office had seen “a huge increase” in domestic violence incidents during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of those cases involved defendants who were arrested two days after their first alleged offense.
Zurlo encouraged anybody who feels they are in an abusive relationship to contact law enforcement.
Heggen said she’s proud to partner in the initiative, adding that attention should be year-round, and not just during October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
There should be a constant recognition of the tragedy victims of domestic violence face, Heggen said.
Heggen said the county continues to dedicate resources to her office, the sheriff’s department and other agencies to combat domestic violence.
Meanwhile, the initiative is working, the DA said.
“We’ve had people stop by our office and talk about the fact that having the ability to make those connections when they’re in a time of crisis makes a difference,” she said.
Fronk said Wellspring’s 24-hour domestic violence hotline answers 1,700 calls a year while serving more than 1,000 victims of abuse every year.
“And yet we know we’re only touching the tip of the iceberg,” she said, adding that some people have said they were in domestic violence situations for 10 years before reaching out.
Cordani thanked various supporters of the initiative that collect phones, such as DeCrescente Distributing in Mechanicville, Toyota of Clifton Park, the Express Newspaper, which also runs stories and advertisements about the program, Ballston Spa National Bank, which collected phones at its Stillwater branch, and the Stillwater Area Community Center.
Wellspring’s hotline is 518-584-8188. The agency also provides safety planning, shelter, and legal advocacy, among other services.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.