Monday, June 15, 2009

Survey predicts peril for domestic violence victims

Police officers responding to domestic violence situations have a new tool to get victims to safety.

Starting June 1, KCPD officers began administering the Domestic Violence Lethality Screen for First Responders to victims of domestic violence. Twelve questions based on academic research determine how likely it is for a victim to be killed by an abuser. If the victim’s answers indicate he or she is in great danger, officers do everything they can to get the victim in touch with a domestic violence victim advocate for safety planning and arranging to get the victim out of the situation, said Captain Mark Folsom, commander of the Special Victims Unit.

Three years ago, a professor at Johns Hopkins University studied hundreds of murders and attempted murders involving intimate partners around the country, including many from Kansas City. She found several factors can trigger a lethal outcome such as threats of death, unemployment, previous attempted suicide and more. She used those factors to develop a screening instrument that has been highly successful in Maryland. Captain Folsom began studying the work more than a year ago and worked to bring the survey to KCPD to be administered by district officers responding to cases of intimate partner violence. Kansas City, Mo., is one of just five cities in the nation to receive federal grant funding to initiate the screening program.

A certain number of “yes” answers to questions on the survey or an officer’s gut feeling that the victim is in danger prompts an immediate call to domestic violence service providers.

All district officers have now been trained to use a cell phone to call 24/7 victim advocates at local domestic violence service providers from the crime scene. They are to encourage the victim to take the phone and speak with the advocate to devise ways to get out of the situation immediately and set up future safety planning appointments. Afterward, police staff follow up with phone calls to see if the victim has kept those appointments.

“We are so grateful and appreciative of the Police Department’s cooperation,” said Lisa Fleming, Chief Operations Officer of Rosebrooks Center, a domestic violence shelter. “This has required so many police resources and a change of their regular protocol. … This has the potential to have a huge impact.”

On the first day of the assessment, officers in Central Patrol Division screened in a high-danger domestic violence victim and got her shelter and safety planning through Rosebrooks Center.

Captain Folsom pointed out that 60 percent of the city’s non-aggravated assaults and 33 percent of aggravated assaults are domestic-violence related. In 2008, eight people died in domestic violence-related homicides in Kansas City.

KCPD has committed to the lethality screening program for at least five months and will continue if it is successful.

“We can do the best job in the world of investigating a crime at the scene and arresting the bad guy … but ultimately if we can’t find a way to break the cycle of violence, then we’re not going to be able to really impact the problem,” Captain Folsom said. “The key is – in my opinion – getting people to the advocates who can help them. This program does that.”

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