The Lethality Assessment Program—Maryland Model (LAP), created by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV) in 2005, is an innovative strategy to prevent domestic violence homicides and serious injuries. It provides an easy and effective method for law enforcement and other community professionals—such as health care providers, clergy members, case workers, court personnel, and even bystanders or family members—to identify victims of domestic violence who are at the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners, and immediately connect them to the local community-based domestic violence service program.
The LAP is a multi-pronged intervention that consists of a standardized, evidence-based lethality assessment instrument and accompanying referral protocol that helps first responders make a differentiated response that is tailored to the unique circumstances of High-Danger victims.
The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) was originally designed for law enforcement. While the LAP is now used by various allied professionals—nurses, social workers, hospital personnel, case workers, and court personnel—the basic protocol is similar for all disciplines.
For law enforcement, the process begins when an officer arrives at the scene of a call for service. One the scene is secure and the investigation of the incident is complete, an officer may activate the LAP, if certain criteria are met. If the individuals involved are intimate partners and the officer discerns a “manifestation of danger,” the officer asks the victim the 11 questions on the Lethality Screen. The Screen is adapted from Dr. Campbell’s Danger Assessment, an instrument used by clinicians and counselors to assess a victim’s risk of being killed by an intimate partner (Campbell, 1986).
If the victim’s responses to the questions indicate risk of homicide according to the Screen’s scoring mechanism, the officer privately informs the victim that the officer is concerned for the victim’s safety, and that in situations like the victim’s, people have been killed. The officer then makes a phone call to the hotline of the local community-based domestic violence service program (DVSP) and proceeds with one of two responses.
Response #1: When the victim chooses to speak with the hotline advocate.
The advocate conducts a brief (no more than 10 minutes), structured conversation with the victim to safety-plan for the next 24 hours. Depending on the courses of action discussed in the telephone conversation between the victim and advocate, the officer may work with the advocate and victim to assist in the victim’s safety-plan (e.g., transporting the victim to shelter, or to the precinct to take out an emergency restraining order).
Response #2: When the victim chooses not to speak with the hotline advocate.
The officer still calls the hotline, offers once again for the victim to speak to the advocate, and if the victim declines a second time, the advocate safety plans with the victim through the officer. The officer reviews the factors that are predictive of homicide so the victim can be on the lookout for them, encourages the victim to contact the DVSP, and may follow other protocol measures to address the victim’s safety and well-being.
As the LAP is an empowerment-based model, it is always the victim’s choice to speak directly with an advocate.
Even victims who are assessed as “Non-High Danger” at the time of the call for service, and those who are not ready to seek help, receive valuable information from the Lethality Screen; it affords them insight into the warning signs that could indicate that an abusive relationship is escalating in severity. Additionally, the officer’s concern for the victim, and the visible partnership between the officer and the advocate, demonstrate to victims that there are people who care to help them should they decide that they want and can take safely advantage of that help.