Throughout ten years of marriage, there had been multiple calls to police. This time was different. “Has your intimate partner threatened you with a weapon?” asked the officer who responded to the scene. “Is your intimate partner violently jealous, or does he control most of your daily activities?” After she finished the screening, the officer told Rita (not real name) that she fit the profile of someone in danger of being injured or killed. “You should separate from this situation,” he warned.
It’s a simple 11-question screening tool, but a victim’s responses can save his/her life. The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) teams local law enforcement with Family Safety Center advocates to identify victims at the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners. LAP brings the Family Safety Center’s prevention and intervention resources to where the victim is, when he or she is most vulnerable. This early intervention is important given that on average it takes a victim seven or eight attempts to leave an abusive situation. LAP was introduced in the Shelby County Sherriff’s Office in the fall and so far, four out of nine MPD precincts have been trained.
After alerting Rita about the dangers she faced, the officer offered to call an advocate for her. With the advocate’s support, and with the police standing by, Rita began to plan her departure – a new beginning. Three weeks later, she is sticking to her plan. “After years of abuse, she is in the right mindset now. That’s all that matters,” says Priscilla Blackmon, FSC Housing Manager.
When the officer asked her the screening questions from the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), Rita’s mindset was “enough is enough.” It takes a long time for victims to choose to leave, that’s why LAP has proven to be successful. It connects victims with services at a time when they may be more receptive. If the officer just leaves a brochure and tells the victim to call for help later, it may never happen.
After conferring with the advocate, Rita drove herself to the Family Safety Center with police following close behind. At FSC, a navigator helped her arrange for emergency shelter and Rita filled out paperwork for an Order of Protection. With shelter secured, and plans to pursue counseling, police escorted her to pick up her young children from school.
Today, she is back at work full-time, living in a safe place with her children, and taking it one day at a time. Her husband has not been served with the Order of Protection papers yet, but Rita is not discouraged.
Blackmon says Rita is “doing everything she should be doing.” She is participating in therapy and she has followed through with the of Order of Protection filing. For her, the LAP-trained officer was in the right place at the right time.
“It’s a matter of timing and reaching the victims at the right time,” says Blackmon. “By working together, the police and the advocate have a bigger impact because the officer on the scene can warn the victim that he or she is in a dangerous situation and then the advocate can reassure the victim that she has options and that there are opportunities to leave and remain safe.”