Jen Kenney began working as a Craig Police Department investigator in 2005, a time when she said there was little communication between law enforcement agencies regarding sexual assault cases.
“When I came in and started doing the investigations, everybody really wasn’t on the same page and we didn’t know what everyone else was doing,” Kenney said.
To bolster communication, she helped start monthly meetings for the Sexual Assault Response Team, a group that includes police officers, sheriff’s office deputies, advocates, attorneys and health care professionals.
“In order to figure that out and make sure everybody understood the role that everyone else was playing and why they were doing it and how it could assist them or assist their agency, that’s why we wanted to (have the meetings),” Kenney said.
Kenney’s work with sexual assault cases, victims and advocates was the basis for the detective winning a recent award.
Last month, Advocates-Crisis Support Services named Kenney as its Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
The award is given each year to a member of the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, Craig Police Department or Colorado State Patrol, said Karen Aragon, Advocates interim executive director.
Criteria for the award includes leadership, commitment, integrity, outstanding service and the individual’s working relationship with the program.
There was nearly unanimous sentiment for Kenney to receive the award, Aragon said.
She said Kenney helping facilitate SART meetings allowed advocates and law enforcement agencies to get on the same page.
“Jen was totally responsible for setting up that meeting and saying, ‘Should we go this next step?’” Aragon said. “It helps us in terms of teamwork with other agencies because we’re not in there to criticize each other or anything, we’re in there as a team together to say, ‘What can we do the very best within our power to do the best we can for people who’ve been victimized?’”
The meetings are confidential and restricted to SART members. They also give those involved a chance to discuss cases and figure out ways to improve work for future cases, Kenney said.
“We can learn from our peer group,” she said.
Kenney said the meetings have been beneficial enough that various SART members have pitched the model to other agencies around the state.
“It sounds so good and then they want more information about how we’re doing it,” Kenney said. “For other agencies to want to kind of follow in our footsteps, for lack of a
better word, that’s a huge compliment to our whole team.”
Kenney was also given credit by many people, including Police Chief Walt Vanatta, in the way she treats sexual assault victims.
In a letter Aragon gave to Vanatta describing Kenney’s award, she wrote that voters made comments about the detective such as, “She does an outstanding job in working with sexual assault clients,” and “she truly has a gift with interviewing child victims of sexual assault.”
Kenney said she simply tries to sympathize with those she interviews.
“It’s a little difficult to put yourself in their shoes, but you try to think if it was one of your family members, how would you want them treated?” Kenney said. “Especially, a lot of the cases we deal with, primarily with a lot of the sexual assaults, it’s very difficult. They’ve already been traumatized and you don’t want to re-traumatize them. I mean, that’s the purpose of our whole SART team.”
Vanatta said Kenney’s award acknowledges abilities police officials were already aware of.
“From my point of view, it reaffirms what our internal view of her abilities is because that award comes from those outside of the agency that work with officers on a routine basis and see the same skills and traits that we do,” Vanatta said.
Vanatta said Kenney goes out of her way not because of specific requirements, but because “it’s just her character.”
“Her being awarded, that is just an affirmation of the amount of compassion and caring that she has for the victims of crimes,” Vanatta said. “She goes out of her way to make sure victims are taken care of and involved in the process, which I think is also somewhat indicative of most of the officers that we have here.”
Aragon said victim advocates look for those within law enforcement who listen to and support victims.
“A law enforcement officer’s job is not to do that,” Aragon said. “It’s to collect evidence. But, she steps outside that role, too, to take the extra time to do the very best for those clients.”
Kenney appreciated getting an award from an agency outside of law enforcement.
“The job that advocates do is different from law enforcement in a lot of ways, but it’s similar in a lot of ways,” Kenney said. “They see the compassion a little more.
“It’s nice that they respect the fact that I do have the compassion, that I do have feelings, that not only am I there to do a job, but I care about the people that I’m doing this job for.”
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