March 25, 2012

Officers taking time to assess domestic incidents

3/1/2012 9:48:00 AM
In 2010 fifteen Minnesota women lost their lives to domestic violence, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Over the past decade 194 women were killed by a current or former husband, boyfriend, intimate partner, household member, or family member.

Officers from Wyoming, North Branch and Lakes Area Police Departments in late February attended training to implement an innovative program designed to address domestic violence. Over 30 officers from the three departments will use a scientifically-based tool, called a "Lethality Assessment," to direct their response to domestic violence calls and assist victims to seek help from shelters, like The Refuge Network.
The Lethality Assessment Program - Maryland Model (LAP).  The LAP is based upon 25 years of research at The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. That research revealed: four percent of domestic violence murder victims nationwide had ever availed themselves of domestic violence program services. In 50 percent of domestic violence-related homicides, officers had previously responded to a call on the scene, and the re-assault of domestic violence victims in high-danger situations was reduced by 60 percent if they went to a shelter for help.

The goal of the LAP is to prevent domestic violence homicides, serious injury, and re-assault by encouraging more victims to utilize the support and shelter services of domestic violence programs. A specific series of questions are used by officers to determine level of risk associated between an abuser and the victim. When victims’ responses rate as high-risk on the Lethality Assessment, an immediate call is made to The Refuge Network's hotline. The immediate connection has been found to be much more effective than simply leaving a business card for the victim, who often does not follow through once the abuser has been arrested and removed from the home. Chief Stenson of Lakes Area Police said, “The Lakes Area Police Department is excited to take part in the Lethality Assessment process. Ours is but the initial step, in several elements working together, to make sure the needs of domestic violence victims are being met to the best of our ability. A few minutes to assess and get a few questions answered is well worth the time to improve services.”

Information gathered from the Lethality Assessment may later be used by prosecutors to charge and prosecute the cases and by probation officers to determine levels of intervention, with the ultimate goal of keeping victims safe and reducing recidivism. Chisago County Probation Officer Bruce Hagstrom supervises misdemeanor offenders. “We look forward to this new tool providing greater victim safety, and increased offender accountability by identifying higher risk domestic offenders.”  

Lethality Assessments will also be made available to Judges setting bail for  and pre-trial release determinations to assist the Court in determining appropriate bail and pre-trial release conditions. Chisago County is already prioritizing domestic abuse cases by placing domestic abuse cases on fast track, allowing cases to reach jury trial on a priority basis.

Sgt. Randy McAlister, Cottage Grove Police Department, assisted with the training sessions in Chisago County.  Sgt. McAlister has been an outspoken proponent of the LAP after its implementation in Washington County.  McAlister has seen the LAP assessment tool convince reluctant victims to get  help from the available domestic abuse programs and shelters.  

The implementation of the assessment in Chisago County is the result of collaboration among Chisago County Attorney's Office, Chisago County Court Services, The Refuge Network, and law enforcement. The adopted two-pronged intervention process features the law enforcement administered lethality screening tool and an accompanying referral protocol that provides direction for law enforcement, victims' advocates, court services and prosecutors.  Assistant County Attorney Jennifer Bovitz, Probation Officer Hagstrom, and advocates from the Refuge Network were instrumental in the LAP coming into use in Chisago County.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence in their relationship, help is available at The Refuge Network.  In Chisago County call (651)247-2890.
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