(Editor’s Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is the second in a series of four articles discussing the topic of relationship assault in many forms.)
by Becky GINOS
WOODS CROSS—Domestic violence incidents are some of the most dangerous calls the police get. They are often walking into a potentially volatile situation, not knowing what awaits them. However, their top priority is the safety of the victim and law enforcement agencies across the state and throughout Davis County have implemented the Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP) to get victims the help they need.
According to the CDC, one in three women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime and one in five will experience it this year. Approximately 80 children witness their mother murdered, almost killed or find her post homicide every year.
The Woods Cross Police Department brought the program in about six years ago. “Since we partnered with the UDVC (Utah Domestic Violence Coalition) over 6,500 victims have been screened in Utah,” said Lt. Adam Osoro, advocate and senior training LAP specialist. “There are 50 agencies participating and we were the first county to adopt it.”
The LAP is made up of a series of questions that the officer asks victims to determine their risk. “When we get a call of a domestic violence situation we show up and determine who the primary aggressor is,” said Osoro. “It’s generally a woman but it can be men. We determine if a crime has been committed such as an assault in the presence of a child. We arrest the aggressor and once the person is removed we go over the LAP. It only applies to intimate partners.”
There are 11 questions the officer on scene asks the victim and based on the responses the risk level is determined. “If they answer yes to the first three or four questions they’re deemed high risk,” he said. “However, even if they answer no if the officer has a gut feeling he can still call an advocate. We make a phone call to an advocate there. We want the victim to hear it. We let them know that people in that situation have been killed so we try to get them to speak with an advocate on the scene.”
Whether the victim speaks with an advocate or not, Osoro said the officer will give them resources and create a safety plan such as an escape route or neighbors who can help.
“Chances are greater that they’ll receive resources if it’s done on scene,” he said. “Less than 4 percent reach out if the numbers are just left with them. Of all the women who have been put in touch with services, 0 percent have been killed. Of those killed, 70 percent had prior law enforcement contact.”
Even if a victim is unwilling to press charges, Osoro said if they have probable cause they can make an arrest. “By arresting the offender we can at least stop the problem for the night,” he said. “With the LAP we hope to change the cycle and improve the safety for them and their children. We try to get a friend or family member to help them, otherwise we’ll transport the victim to the shelter.”
They work closely with the Safe Harbor Crisis Center, he said. “Before we implemented the LAP the calls were handled very similarly. The officer would make an arrest, photograph the injury and leave a pamphlet with resources,” said Osoro. “At the time victims are emotionally upset and vulnerable but after their mind has cleared maybe they’re not afraid and they feel they’re alone” so they don’t seek help.
Osoro said their goal is to let them know they are not alone. “There are people who care and want to stop the cycle of violence,” he said. “It’s powerful to have an officer make that call – it speaks volumes. We’re not trying to force them to talk. The one’s I’ve done personally they (the victim) said they thought nobody cared about their circumstances and they thank us. They credit the LAP for saving their life and giving them the strength to leave an abusive situation.”
There has been a reduction in repeat domestic violence calls and intimate partner homicides since implementing the program he said, and other agencies are seeing the same results. “We’re still identifying victims who are high risk. The program is still working and will continue to work.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence report it immediately, said Osoro. “Law enforcement across the country are more educated on the dynamics of domestic violence then we were even 10 years ago,” he said. “We do care. We will intervene. If we don’t know there is a problem how can we help you address it?”
For help call the UDVC hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) or the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).