Problematic Behavior or Activity
No specific criteria existed for assessing the potential risk to domestic violence victims that was available for deputies interacting with domestic violence victims. Although all victims are provided with written information by law enforcement first responders, many high-risk domestic violence victims were not being immediately connected with local domestic violence resources.
Studies have shown only 4% of abused victims had used a domestic violence hotline or shelter within the year prior to being killed by an intimate partner. In Clackamas County, high-risk victims were not readily identified and at the scene of a domestic violence incident were not immediately connected with community domestic violence resources that could increase safety for them and for their children.
The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) is a collaborative effort 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. The LAP protocol provides immediate assistance to all domestic violence victims who fit the assessment criteria. Personnel from Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and Clackamas Women’s Services offer counseling and available services at the scene of a domestic dispute and follow up with the victims to ensure they are receiving services designed to protect them and their families.
Deputies responding to a domestic violence incident ask the victim a series of questions using the Lethality Screen, a lethality screening questionnaire. If the information provided by the victim indicates that the person should be “screened in” to the program, based on either the risk assessment or the opinion of the deputy at the scene, the victim is immediately connected by phone to a Clackamas Women’s Services (CWS) hotline advocate who can provide counseling and offer resources and services to willing victims, including but not limited to immediate access to shelters, information on emotional and financial assistance available, and safety planning advice. A member of CWS follows up with the victim the next business day to continue to provide support and resource assistance. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office DVERT Victim Assistant is available to help with obtaining a restraining order, safety planning and suggesting resources.
The initial cash outlay for the program was minimal, mostly covering supplies and printing costs for the Lethality Screen documents. The DVERT/Child Abuse Team sergeant who administrated the program was able to add this to his regular tasks without added personnel cost. He was assisted by the Clackamas County Domestic Violence Victim Assistant, whose salary was partially paid from grant funds. Training for deputies and other staff was done during regular working hours in a short roll-call format.
The current cost to operate the program consists of costs for deputy personnel to complete the Lethality Screen with the victim, the costs involved in staffing the CWS hotline, the CWS and DVERT staff who follow up with victims, and personnel costs for program tracking. The Clackamas County Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team personnel from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office were already in place and are currently funded and house at A Safe Place, the Clackamas County Family Justice Center. The approximately $12,000 per year costs for the LAP are now absorbed in the regular operating budgets of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and CWS.
The program received initial grant funding in the amount of $25,000 from the Clackamas County Children, Youth and Families Division. $10,000 of the initial grant funding was used by CWS to increase hotline support staffing and for housing and other victim resources. The grant also partially funded a law enforcement domestic violence victim advocate position, which was later fully funded by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
Over the first three and a half years of the program, 789 victims “screened in” using the risk assessment tool and 271 victims were “screened in” based on the responding deputy’s assessment. 518 of these victims agreed to immediately speak with a CWS hotline advocate.
Critical Success Factors
The LAP was successful due to early support for the program from the Sheriff’s Office administration and community partners. A comprehensive training program was created for deputies and CWS employees. The training clearly identified the need for the program, which in turn created buy-in from those receiving the training. The DVERT supervisor was enthusiastic about the LAP concept; his work to author a grant and organize the program was a big part of the successful implementation and operation of the program.
Before attempting to implement a LAP, ensure buy-in from all levels of the organization as well as community partners. Members of the law enforcement agency and the community-based advocacy program need to establish strong lines of communication to ensure clarification on issues including ongoing communication, confidentiality agreements, shelter availability, hotline staffing and other concerns. A single agency point of contact who can spearhead the program and keep the momentum moving forward is crucial.