Lethality Assessments Show Promise for Limiting Further Violence

What are lethality assessments and how can they help? The practice is one of many highlighted in the recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

One model — The Lethality Assessment Program—Maryland Model (LAP) – was created by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV) in 2005. The goal is to identify victims most at risk of serious injury or death by their intimate partners and connect them to service programs. In Maryland, trained officers ask victims questions in their Lethality Screen for First Responders.

Dr. Campbell

Dr. Jacqueline Campbell

Read about the roots of the model, adapted from Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell’s Danger Assessment.

PERF’s study found that 42 percent of responding agencies use lethality assessments, or “structured risk” tools – to assess the level of danger a victim faces. The yes-or-no questions help determine the need for a safety plan. Questions include whether violence from the offender has increased; whether the offender has a criminal history or a history of drug or alcohol abuse; whether the abuser has violated an order of protection; and whether the victim has decided to leave the offender.

Of the agencies using this assessment, 81 percent include the findings in the police report, the PERF survey found. Seventy-nine percent of agencies using the tool say responding officers administer the assessment.

MNADV says using LAP has “improved partnerships and collaboration among law enforcement officers and other community practitioners and advocates.” Agencies have created new guidelines for hotline advocates who speak to high-danger victims and special protocols for health care providers.

Researchers who studied seven Oklahoma police jurisdictions found that “the LAP demonstrates promise as an evidence informed collaborative police-social service intervention that increases survivors’ safety and empowers them toward decisions of self-care.”

Download that report here.

Family Justice Centers: A Best Practice

A broad survey by the Police Executive Research Forum reinforces the benefits of Family Justice Centers in addressing domestic violence. The concept Under_One_Roof_copyrefers to a multi-agency service delivery model where “multi-disciplinary team of professionals who work together, under one roof, to provide coordinated services to victims of family violence,” according to the Family Justice Center Alliance. The centers offer one place for victims to ‘talk to an advocate, plan for their safety, interview with a police officer, meet with a prosecutor, receive medical assistance, receive information on shelter, and get help with transportation,” the organization’s site explains.

The PERF study, which included 358 law enforcement agencies, found that 43 percent of responding agencies have a specific unit devoted to domestic violence cases. The average size of these specialized units is 11 people; the median staff includes 5 people.

Survey respondents working in Family Justice Centers affirm the model’s value. “Every day we are collaborating and sharing information,” Sgt. Jordan Satinsky of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department told PERF researchers. “We know each other and have built trust with each other,” said Sgt. Rachael Van Sloten of Oakland, California.

The concept dates to the late 1980s, and in 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice identified the San Diego Family Justice Center model as a best practice in the field of domestic violence intervention and prevention services. In 2003, then-President George W. Bush created a $20 million initiative to create these one-shop centers.

According to the Department of Justice, documented outcomes of Family Justice Centers include: reduced homicides; increased victim safety; increased autonomy and empowerment for victims; reduced fear and anxiety for victims and their children; and reduced recantation and minimization by victims.

Download a 2007 DOJ report here, which outlines specific best practices.

Download “The Family Justice Center Collaborative Model,” published in 2008 in the St. Louis University Law Review. Its authors are four directors of Family Justice Centers.  About 80 Family Justice Centers operate across the United States. Experts clearly support the model, and they appear to be successful. So why doesn’t every community have one?

An Introduction to Data from Police Executive Research Forum Study

A recent newsletter of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) provides a wealth of data and information about domestic violence. PERF is an independent research organization that focuses on policing issues. Its mission includes strategies relevant to efforts to end domestic violence: developing community policing and problem-oriented policing; and evaluating crime reduction strategies.

This post provides an overview of the information the study uncovered. You can download the report here. Future posts will take a closer look at issues the report addresses, including Family Justice Centers and police strategies for dealing with repeat offenders. And we’ll keep an eye out for more news from PERF, which holds its annual meeting June 2 to 5 in Phoenix.

PERF surveyed 358 law enforcement agencies about their domestic violence investigations. The survey asked for statistics and descriptions about strategies and programs. PERF researchers then interviewed police officials via phone about their department’s best practices.

“Many of the most promising programs involve cooperation between police and victim services groups,” the newsletter says in introducing its findings.

Researchers crunched the numbers, and here’s what they found:PERF

• 14% of homicides involved domestic violence.
• 64% of the agencies reported that the percentage of homicides involving domestic violence remained stable between 2009 and 2013.
• 18% said the percentage of homicides involving domestic violence in that period increased; 18% said it decreased.
• 27% of the departments surveyed said aggravated assaults included domestic violence.
• On average, departments surveyed said 8% of their agency’s total calls are related to domestic violence.
• 95% of respondents said their agency has a specific policy for responding to domestic violence incidents.
• 43% of agencies have a specific unit devoted to domestic violence cases.
• In 84% of agencies, personnel outside the domestic violence unit are trained on responding to domestic violence cases.
• 27% of agencies provide training on domestic violence between same-sex partners.
• 65% of agencies have special policies for handling domestic violence cases perpetrated by law enforcement personnel.
• 89% of agencies provide victims with information on how to obtain orders of protection.
• 44% of agencies help victims fill out paperwork for an order; 29% accompany victims to court to obtain an order.
• 42% of agencies use “structured risk” of lethality assessments to determine the level of danger to the victim.
• 88% of agencies document domestic violence incidents by location; 73% document incidents by perpetrator.
• 39% percent of respondents said their agency has a specific policy for responding to repeat offenders.

Whew. That’s a lot to take in. Think about these statistics, and stay tuned for closer looks at some of the issues the survey addressed.