NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Newport News Police department is taking a new approach to stop domestic violence.

Earlier this month, the department hired two domestic violence specialists to work alongside officers.

This comes as shelters in Hampton Roads see an increase in calls for help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Police Chief Steve Drew says the department is also seeing an increase in calls.

“We respond to about 20-25 domestic calls a day. It is our top call, it has been during the month of April. That tells me already that there is a need,” Drew explained.

He adds that the crime rate is down in the city, except for domestic-related violence.

“My hope is to decrease [the number of domestic related incidents] from happening in the first place.”

Now the department is taking a proactive approach with in-house domestic violence awareness advocates. Drew says not many police departments in our area, or in the country, have the positions.

Cheryl Chavers and Neisha Himes will work as a team to build the program from the ground up.

Chavers is the domestic violence specialist. She will track trends in the city, like where the increase in calls happen and key areas to focus on.

“Domestic violence victims, unfortunately, have to live in isolation. So, they need a voice to be able to speak up on their behalf, to champion this cause, to bring awareness to the community. The more people that we can get on board, who can understand what they are experiencing. The more support they can have. That is what I would desire to do,” she said.

The duo will work with survivors immediately, much sooner than any other agency in the city.

“Often times with domestic violence, it progresses. If we can get on the front of it and try to provide some intervention for those types of families. Then maybe we can prevent something lethal from taking place. That way it keeps our victims safe. It also helps keep our officers safe, if we can be there on the front end,” Chavers said.

In 2019, officers reported four domestic-related homicides, according to department spokesperson Kelly King.

Himes is the domestic violence community outreach specialist. She will work with schools, churches, organizations and survivors on a personal level.

“One of the things I’m looking forward to most, is bringing awareness but also helping that survivor find their freedom. Find their voice and find their peace,” Himes explained.

You may remember Himes from 10 On Your Side’s Domestic Violence Awareness series.

Himes is a survivor of domestic violence. She created the non-profit organization Girls Recognizing Our Worth or GROW foundation.

“To survive domestic violence, being at a point in my life when I felt like I didn’t have a voice. To not only advocating for others to find their voice. Now, helping to play a vital role in building a program that will benefit victims and survivors in the Newport News area and beyond. I don’t have the words. It’s just amazing,” Himes said.

Drew says three organizations have already called to set up a meeting with the specialists. The specialists will also talk with recruits and current officers about ways to assist families experiencing physical and mental abuse.

“Chavers and Himes will be tremendous assets to this department. We are fortunate. I am fortunate to have them,” Drew said.

10 On Your Side’s Kiahnna Patterson is committed to helping Break the Cycle of domestic violence.

Here are some local and national resources for those in need of help.

Transitions Family Violence Services in Hampton

  • Phone: 757-722-2261  
  • Offers emergency shelter and crisis services
  • 24- hour Crisis Hotline (757) 723-7774

YWCA South Hampton Roads in Norfolk

  • Phone: 757-625-4248
  • Offers counseling, youth, and crisis services.
  • 24-hour Crisis Hotline: 757-251-0144

Avalon Center in Williamsburg

  • Phone: 757-258-5022
  • Offers transitional housing, emergency shelter, youth services, legal advice, and counseling.
  • 24-hour Crisis Hotline: 757- 258-5051

Samaritan House Inc. in Virginia Beach

  • Phone: 757-631-0710
  • Offers counseling, emergency shelter placement, and safety planning.
  • 24-hour Crisis Hotline 757-430-2120

HER Shelter in Portsmouth

  • Phone: 757-485-1445
  • Offers emergency services, court assistance, shelter, employment, housing assistance.
  • Hotline: 757-485-3384

Girls Recognizing Our Worth G.R.O.W Foundation, Inc. serves the entire Hampton Roads area: 757-384-0294

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233