In the year 2000, when Alison Hudyma first started her job as a police officer with the Darien Police Department, she would go around town with another officer and saw how he interacted with the community.

“I said to myself, ‘that’s what I want to do. I want to walk around and know everybody,’” she said.

She has certainly achieved her goal. Over the past 19 years, Hudyma, 42, has gotten to know thousands of residents and has been involved in multiple community programs, including the Darien Youth Center, Cops and Kids and Girls Night Out.

Hudyma is also making history within the department — due to her recent promotion, she’s the department’s first ever female lieutenant.

She started as a patrol officer and was promoted to sergeant in 2011. Out of 51 sworn officers, eight are female.

Hudyma is now the training lieutenant. In her new role, she said she is most excited about being part of the hiring process.

“I really like being involved in that and getting my hands into who we are bringing in here,” said Hudyma, a Monroe resident.

When hiring a new officer, “we do a lot of background checks, as well as a written test, polygraph, interviews, psychological test and physicals,” Hudyma said.

However, she said, a large component of hiring someone is “reading them and determining how you see their personality fitting in with the rest of the department,” said Hudyma, “because whoever you bring in, they’re going to be here most likely for 20 years.”

Hudyma grew up in Stamford and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut, where she played softball, and a master’s degree from the University of New Haven.

A lifelong athlete, as an adult, she played co-ed and women’s travel softball all over the country. She is a married mother of a 5-year-old daughter.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Hudyma is the Darien Police Department’s domestic violence liaison.

As a patrolman, she would go to domestic violence calls and educate the victim on the process.

Currently, if there are any domestic violence related questions, they would be directed to Hudyma.

In domestic violence cases, the prosecutor, officers, child guidance, family services, and the Department of Children & Families (DCF) “all sit in on meetings and talk about the offender and the victim and what is needed in each case,” she said.

She’s now the supervisor of the police department’s Domestic Violence Liaison Unit and the Accident Investigation Team. “I made it my baby,” she said.

Hudyma is also on the board of the Darien Domestic Abuse Council, which is a task force made up of community members that raises awareness for victims of domestic violence.

She received a certificate in victim’s rights and services from the University of New Haven and completed an internship with DCF.

She’s also involved with Respect Works, a club run through the Darien Youth Center that focuses on raising awareness for teen domestic abuse and dating violence.

The Darien Domestic Abuse Council has also participated in additional domestic violence awareness initiatives such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, an international men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault and gender violence and The Yellow Dress, a one-woman show based on the stories of real victims of dating violence.

In addition, the council has a Wings of Hope Fund, which provides funds to victims of domestic violence “who are in a spot where they can’t afford to pay things such as electricity, new locks on their doors, or oil to heat their house,” Hudyma said.

Through October, residents may see purple ribbons tied to lampposts around town with facts on them about domestic violence.

Earlier in the month, the department also took part in a Community Health & Safety Fair/Family Fun Day, and educated residents on domestic violence prevention.

Warning signs of domestic abuse

According to Hudyma, in a dating relationship, domestic abuse can start slow, with curse words and put-downs.

It can escalate to monetary abuse, isolating victims from their friends and family.

Then, shoving can occur during an argument.

“The [abusers] would say they’re sorry, and as a victim, you want to believe that they will never do that again,” Hudyma said.

Months may go by with no incident. Then there is another argument, and now the shove is a little harder, she said.

Many times, the victims will start to believe what they’re being told.

“They come up with excuses why they think it’s their fault,” she said. “They keep giving the abuser more chances. It just goes in this rotating circle of things are good right now, and then there’s the shove again.”

According to Hudyma, it’s “easy” for people that aren’t in this type of relationship to say, “Why don’t you just leave?”

“But it gets very complicated,” she said. “There’s money issues. There’s child issues. There’s divorce issues. There’s fear of punishment. It might be a physical problem for them to leave.”

She recommends victims reach out to a professional or friend.

Domestic violence stats

 From July 2018-June 2019, there were 72 domestic violence related calls and 31 arrests in Darien.

 Domestic violence confidential 24-7 helpline: 888-774-2900.

 Domestic Violence Crisis Center: 203-588-9100

 Darien Domestic Abuse Council website: ddacinc06820.org.

Role models

Up until she was 14, Hudyma was a gymnast and became “obsessed” with Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, “because of the time and effort she put in for training.”

Comaneci became the first woman to score a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event.

Hudyma’s other role model is her late father, Marc Hirsch.

“My dad always used to tell me and my sister that he wants us to take care of ourselves and not have to rely on a man,” she said. “He always said I was just as good in sports as any boy.”

Aside from playing softball, Hudyma also played baseball and football against boys.

Her father also told her to be just as educated and well paid as the boys. Before he passed away, he made her promise to get her master’s degree.

Community

The way society sees policing has changed over the past couple of years, and is continuing to change, according to Hudyma.

“It’s not just there’s a crime and we respond to it,” she said. “It’s us getting out there and meeting our community members and finding out what they want from us.”

She said the days of looking for “‘bad guys’ — it’s a priority, but also getting to know your community is a priority as well now — I would say even more so,” she said.

Praise from Darien police chief

“As someone who was here to work with our first female patrol officer, Rebecca Nathanson, it almost now seems implausible that, prior to December of 1981, it was only ‘patrolmen’ staffing the ranks of the Darien Police Department,” Darien Police Chief Don Anderson said. “Since that time, we have seen a few other ‘firsts’— first female detective, [Nathanson] and first female sergeant [Roma Sharpe-Laster].”

In regard to Hudma’s new rank, Anderson said, “We need to set aside gender for a moment just to be clear on exactly how competitive it is to achieve a promotion to the rank of lieutenant in our agency. We pride ourselves on hiring top quality candidates and then offering them career advancement and advanced educational opportunities. Most take advantage of these, which makes the promotional process all that more competitive.”

He added that Hudyma has always been a “highly motivated and engaged member of our department. She has certainly earned this promotion to the rank of lieutenant and I have every confidence that she will excel as the newest member of our command staff. I am very proud of her accomplishment and am delighted that I, as the current chief, could be here to see this happen.”

Anderson said that the department has a “proven track record” of always looking to first hire, and then hopefully promote at some point, “the very best candidate available, regardless of gender.”

“So, although Lt. Hudyma may be the first female Darien Police Department Lieutenant, I am confident in saying that she won’t be the last,” he said.

sfox@darientimes.com