Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lethality Assessment Program is reducing domestic violence in Kansas City

From our monthly Informant newsletter:

Domestic violence assaults have plummeted by more than a third since Kansas City Police embarked on a unique project to protect victims nine months ago.

“When I look back over the years at community collaborations that resulted in such a big systems change in how we go about responding to victims of domestic violence, this is huge – one of the biggest,” said Lisa Fleming, Chief Operating Officer of Rosebrooks Center, a domestic violence shelter and service agency.

The Lethality Assessment Protocol requires officers responding to domestic violence-related incidents to ask victims 12 questions based on academic research to determine how likely it is for a victim to be killed by an abuser. If the victim’s answers indicate he or she might be 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. They use cell phones to contact domestic violence advocates at the scene of the crime to get them in touch with victims.

KCPD was one of just five police departments in the nation to get a grant to try the project. The grant lasted for five months, but the Lethality Assessment will go much longer than that.

“We’ve decided to continue it as the way our department does business,” said Captain Mark Folsom of the Special Victims Unit.

Total domestic violence assaults in Kansas City fell from 371 in July 2009 to 240 in February 2010. Capt. Folsom said it’s a trend that’s bucking nationwide trends of rising domestic violence cases. 

Although the numbers are dropping, Fleming said Rosebrooks’ beds have never been fuller. She said a big reason for that is the Lethality Assessment program, which is bringing in people who never before would have sought help.

“The risk of re-assault is reduced by 60 percent when a victim walks through the doors of a domestic violence program,” Fleming said. “This has been such a successful intervention for making that happen.”
Though it’s more work for officers responding to these calls, they think it’s a good thing, said Sergeant Bernadette Bond, who helped implement the Lethality Assessment in the South Patrol Division. She said in the past, it was frustrating to show up to a domestic violence incident, take a report and leave without really being able to help the victim.

“We didn’t give them an option – there was no follow-up,” Sergeant Bond said. “At least this way there’s someone who cares, who follows up with them. They have an option.”

Sergeant Bond said she knew the program would be a good thing when one of her most gruff and veteran officers told her after training that it “was something we should’ve done a long time ago.”

“I knew then that we were on the right track,” Sergeant Bond said. “We need to be doing everything we can to empower victims.”

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