HELENA — Helena Police Officer Dakota Becker and Lewis & Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Kultgen have been named officers of the year by the Helena Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Working Group and the Friendship Center for their work serving victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Domestic violence and sexual assault are some of the most under reported crimes in the nation, with Lewis and Clark County seeing some of the highest reported domestic violence and sexual assault crimes in the state.
“Domestic Violence is a true social issue,” said Kultgen. “It affects many victims and their families, and being able to shed more light on that for the world and hopefully inspire some of those who are afraid to speak out and know that we’re here for you.”
Law enforcement and advocates for survivors of domestic violence say there isn’t more of those types of crimes happening in the county compared to the state, but rather individuals in those situations are more confident in reaching out to law enforcement members in the area.
“Our county has done so much work to make sure that victims know where to go to get help and know that they’re going to have that taken seriously,” said Friendship Center Executive Director Jenny Eck. “We do have a higher reporting rate than other counties, but I don’t think low reporting rates is a good thing. We want folks to come forward and get help.”
Both Kultgen and Becker say it’s incredibly important that victims know from their first interaction with law enforcement that those organizations are able and committed to helping them.
“Taking each call seriously, and making sure no matter what day I’m having that when I talk to those people that they understand that I’m listening. That I’m putting 100 percent attention into what they’re saying and that I believe them,” said Becker.
In 2019, the Friendship Center served 669 known individuals, provided 4,376 nights of safe shelter to 90 adults and 6,438 nights of safe shelter to 44 children.
Eck says it’s incredibly important to have law enforcement that advocate for survivors and is thankful to have such great partnerships with local departments.
“It’s an incredible partnership we have with these officers,” Eck said. “It’s so important to us that the people that come forward to report domestic or sexual abuse have someone, that they can go to someone that knows how to handle those interviews and understands the trauma that they’ve endured. It’s really important when officers take the time to get that training and understand those dynamics; and that we honor and recognize that because it makes a huge difference in the lives of victims.”
Domestic violence crimes are often some of the most challenging calls law enforcement respond to. Emotions in the victim and suspect can be high and there are often other factors that can make resolution difficult.
However, Baker and Kultgen say it’s those calls that you have the opportunity to change a person’s life.
“We get those calls almost every day,” said Baker. “Being able to get victims out of those bad situations and seeing how thankful they are is rewarding. There’s a lot of time when you don’t realize how mad it is until you get them to a safe space and that’s when they're able to share with you how bad it’s been.”
“It is a big responsibility," said Kultgen,”but it feels amazing when they look to us for help. If we can keep instilling that culture that we’re people they can turn to, then we can direct them to amazing agencies like that Friendship Center and help guide them through this.”
If you or someone you know are the victim or survivor of domestic violence, know that help is available.
The Friendship Center crisis hotline is available 24/7. Call 406-442-6800 to speak to an advocate if you are experiencing domestic abuse, stalking or sexual assault.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233. An advocate can provide assistance to victims, and anyone calling on their behalf.