JRSA Forum. March 2014. Volume 32, Number 1.

DCJS Reviews Lethality Assessment Programs

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) reviewed the experience of other states in establishing lethality assessment programs that train law enforcement officers in responding to situations involving domestic violence and potential deadly threats. The resulting report, Review of Lethality Assessment Programs (LAP), was produced last October for the Virginia General Assembly, and included an assessment of the costs and benefits of establishing a LAP in Virginia.

Lethality assessments are risk assessment tools that were developed to provide law enforcement and other first responders with a simple and consistent method to measure the level of danger that victims of intimate partner domestic violence are in given their current situation. The tool consists of a standard set of questions that are asked of the victim in a specific order; the responses that the victim provides to those questions help indicate the level of danger.

To provide background, the report first gives an overview of the Maryland Lethality Assessment Program. The LAP is an easy-to-use protocol that identifies victims of domestic violence who are at the greatest risk of being killed by their intimate partners and immediately connects them to the domestic violence service provider in their area. It features a short, 11-question lethality screening tool and an accompanying response and referral protocol. The Maryland program helped bring about a 34% drop in intimate partner domestic violence homicides between July 2007 and June 2012.

DCJS also contacted ten states and localities that have implemented lethality assessment programs and asked them to describe their experiences. Responses were received from all but two. Staff met with the prosecutor and law enforcement personnel in Norfolk, Virginia, who oversee that program, to learn how they started the program and how it is proceeding so far. The states and localities providing responses were:

Connecticut - This statewide program was implemented in September 2012 with eight domestic violence agencies and 14 law enforcement agencies. It has now expanded to 11 domestic violence and 29 law enforcement agencies.

Delaware - A statewide program was implemented in November 2010. All police agencies in Delaware utilize the LAP in partnership with the two 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline/Shelters. The program was piloted by the Delaware State Police for approximately one year prior to statewide implementation.

Indiana - Implemented in May 2009, this regional program includes 19 law enforcement agencies and six domestic violence agencies from six Indiana counties.

Massachusetts - Plymouth Co. - This local, countywide program was modeled after both LAP and High Risk Team approaches. The lethality assessment program was implemented in 2010, and then in 2012 Safety First was added to the LAP to combine the two approaches countywide.

Missouri - Jackson Co. - This countywide program began in June 2009 and involves five police departments (including the Kansas City Police Department) and three domestic violence programs, partnered by location.

Oklahoma - Six Oklahoma police departments and their collaborating domestic violence advocacy agency participated in an Oklahoma lethality assessment study. This study was funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the use of the lethality assessment intervention protocol as compared with standard operating procedures. The study period was January 2009–2013; the first few months of 2009 were spent training the police for the study and the intervention.

Vermont - Rutland Co. - This regional program was implemented in late 2012/early 2013 and involves five police departments and the county domestic violence agency and shelter.

Based on the information received from these states/localities, DCJS identified some of the major challenges that should be considered in developing a LAP, and some of the lessons learned from their experiences with LAPs. Recommendations for implementing a LAP within existing or limited resources are also provided.