Learning to read the danger signs

Maryland patrol officers take an extra step to end domestic violence homicides


   When officers realize how easy it is for them to take another step to assist victims, Russum says they are impressed.

Assessing the assessment

   Moreover, Sargent says 50 percent of the officers surveyed during the field test in 2004 said having the protocol boosted their confidence in being able to deal with a dangerous domestic situation.

   Officers also commented in the survey that they now view the local domestic violence program as they view social services in child abuse cases — they're part of the team.

   "I don't know that we've been using LAP long enough to really gauge it," Russum says. "But from what I can see, it's definitely working. Programs offering services to domestic violence victims are reaching people that they never would have reached if it hadn't been for LAP."

   LAP benefits not only the victims of domestic violence and their families, it also benefits law enforcement. Having read the domestic-related reports and incidents for his department, Martin says there have been fewer calls to certain residences, "because we're getting more victims into services."

   Russum, a retired state trooper, police chief and deputy sheriff, says, "I would encourage every police agency and domestic violence intervention program in the nation to explore how they can make LAP work in their area and implement it when they can. Police can't work without the domestic violence programs, and the programs can't work without the police. They have to work together."

   Victims' attitudes are changing, he says. They may have heard that help is available before, but he says it's never been this easy to get help.

   LAP is an award-winning program. The Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School named LAP as one of the Top 50 Programs of the 2008 Innovations in American Government Awards competition.

   Law enforcement agencies participating in LAP track how many high-danger victims talk to a domestic violence advocate. Maryland's four-year average, from 2006 to 2009, was 59 percent (7,090). Another statistic agencies track is how many victims went into services (for counseling or shelter, for example). Here, the statewide average for the same time span is 30 percent (2,072), which may not seem like a lot, but Sargent reminds that Campbell's research showed only 4 percent of victims at risk of being killed ever sought the help of a domestic service provider. Going beyond the four-year average, Sargent sees this percent increasing. Last quarter, 37 percent (296 victims) sought help, he says.

   "I credit the police officers and the domestic violence advocates on the hotline for doing a better job of getting these victims who are not necessarily ready to get on the phone to go into those services," he says.

Community response

   Police officers and hotline workers were the first to receive LAP training. MNADV's overall goal is to promote a coordinated community response using LAP.

   "We want anyone who might come into contact with a victim to know the signs of lethal danger and be able to do virtually the same thing a police officer does — use the screen, say the same kinds of things to the victim and connect the victim to the local domestic violence intervention provider," Sargent says.

   Already he has been working with two hospitals to create a model for health care workers.

   Others MNADV looks to include are clergy, legal advocates, social workers, educators, businesses, community groups, family members and the general public.

   "Family members may know what's going on but maybe don't know what to do or where to turn," Sargent says. "We want them to know there's a place victims should be encouraged to call. We don't want to create undue alarm, but we want them to understand that they may have a loved one who is in grave danger."

   Sargent's team has begun working with two counties in Maryland, so various agencies and organizations throughout the county are doing the LAP through a coordinated community response approach.

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