By design, the Family Safety Center (FSC) brings to one location multiple agencies focused on improving outcomes for domestic violence victims. The new Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) is a prime example of this teamwork. Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) deputies or MPD officers on a domestic disturbance call can now use a brief questionnaire to determine if a victim is in imminent danger. If necessary, officers will connect the victim with a Family Safety Center advocate while still on the scene. As evidenced by the increased volume of referrals to FSC, these timely interventions are making a difference.
While each agency plays an important role in the LAP, the SCSO Fugitive Bureau gives the program teeth. For every high-risk victim, there is a dangerous perpetrator that must be brought to justice. The fugitive bureau steps in to facilitate an arrest if the abuser has eluded the officers or in particularly heinous cases such as domestic violence-related homicides.
Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Pope, Commander of the DV Unit, says his team’s goal is to effect the arrest in the cases that cross his desk. The Sheriff’s Office investigates the cases to decide whether to issue a warrant, advise a victim to file an Order of Protection, or help the courts determine the conditions of bail. Lt Pope says patience and persistence pay off. His deputies are dogged in their pursuit of the perpetrators, and patient with victims who are hesitant to come forward and file a report.
“We don’t always get a victim to follow through the first time,” says Lt. Pope. “Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a second incident. Two or three months later, when it happens again, all of a sudden they realize it’s worth cooperating with us. We understand that we can’t force anyone. Our job is to keep them safe regardless.”
SCSO Detective Nichole Brumley, who has worked in the Domestic Violence Unit for more than five years, says the most challenging part of her job is convincing the victims to leave their situation.
“These are emotionally complicated cases,” says Detective Brumley. “I always tell the victims ‘I am sure this is not the first time, and I am pretty sure there will be a next time. If you are not concerned for yourself, think about your children.’ It is a tough decision for victims who are financially dependent on their partner or who want to keep their family together,” she says.
The MPD and SCSO Domestic Violence Bureaus are co-located at FSC so there is regular communication about high profile cases, including when the fugitive squad is needed to expedite an arrest after a homicide. Difficult ongoing cases also surface at the weekly Domestic Violence Review and Response Team (DVRRT) meetings, a chance for law enforcement and advocates to discuss specific cases.
“We have everyone around the table at the DVRRT meetings, including housing and legal assistance,”says Olliette Murry-Drobot, Executive Director of FSC. “The LAP program has made us that much more efficient, because we can zero in on the high-risk situations that have been identified in the LAP screenings and need immediate attention.”
The DVRRT meetings are also an opportunity to address gaps in the system. When the fugitive squad complained that they were often unable to serve Orders of Protection against individuals detained on other offenses because they were released before the deputies arrived to serve them, the Sheriff’s Office worked with the Clerk of the Court to change the booking procedure. Now, before a DV perpetrator is released from jail, authorities check to make sure there are no outstanding Orders of Protection.
“With the key partners in one location we are able to brainstorm about how best to allocate our community’s domestic violence resources as efficiently as possible. We also brainstorm ideas about what is working and what is not working in other communities. We are able to build on our strengths and continue to remove barriers for victims that we are serving,” says Murry-Drobot.