Talking Points

Explanation of the LAP

  • The Lethality Assessment Program—Maryland Model (LAP) is an innovative, multi-pronged strategy to prevent domestic violence homicides.
  • Law enforcement officers and other community professionals trained in the LAP use an evidence-based lethality assessment instrument based on the pioneering research of Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell to identify victims of intimate partner violence who are in highest danger of being killed by their intimate partners.
  • Once a High-Danger victim has been identified, the first responder immediately connects the victim via a hotline call to the local domestic violence service program (DVSP) for emergency safety planning and enhanced service provision.

The need for the LAP 

  • Research shows that for 28-33% of victims, the homicide or attempted homicide was the first act of violence, which shows that physical violence isn’t necessarily the most accurate predictor of homicide. This means that, when assessing for risk of homicide, first responders need to also look for other, non-physical tactics that abusers use—many of which would not even be classified as “crimes”—that could indicate the victim is in danger of being killed.[1], [2]
  • Research also shows that, in the year prior to the homicide, more than 44% of abusers were arrested, and almost one-third of victims contacted the police. These contacts demonstrate missed opportunities to identify victims in danger of being killed by their intimate partners.[3]
  • Alternatively, only 4% of abused victims had used a domestic violence hotline or shelter within the year prior to being killed by an intimate partner. This statistic shows that victims who need the most help aren’t self-initiating contact with domestic violence-specific resources. They do, however, come in contact much more often with law enforcement. The LAP capitalizes on the contact that law enforcement has with victims in danger of intimate partner homicide, and connects them to local resources.[4]
  • Once victims in danger of being killed by an intimate partner engage with domestic violence services, their risk of re-assault diminishes greatly.
  • This is why the LAP is needed—it gives law enforcement officers the knowledge they need to assess whether someone is in danger of being killed, and connects them to services that are protective, and they wouldn’t have otherwise used.
  • What if a community only has a couple homicides a year? Why sink time and training into an issue that isn’t common? The 1,500 intimate partner deaths per year in the U.S., as reported by the FBI, does not include collateral deaths: first responders, children, new partners, family members or co-workers of the victim, nor abuser suicide. Additionally, for every one intimate partner homicide, there are 8-9 near-homicides. As the LAP is evidence-based, these deaths and near-deaths are predictable and preventable.

 Quick Selling Points

  • The LAP is one of only two models of evidence-based intimate partner homicide prevention to be honored as a “promising practice” by the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Agencies and programs in 30 states, including Maryland, are implementing the LAP. These jurisdictions range from the West Coast to the East Coast, Southwest to Southeast, and the Midwest, and include large cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas.

For Law Enforcement Agencies

  • The LAP offers officers a clear, evidence-based assessment tool, the Lethality Screen, to identify victims of intimate partner violence who are in danger of homicide. Officers no longer only have their gut, or past experiences, to guess when a situation may be highly dangerous.
  • The Lethality Screen offers a “common language” to be able to communicate a victim’s danger level across departments and systems, including with the domestic violence service program (DVSP).
  • It gives officers “something else” to do, beyond arresting the perpetrator, or giving the victim a brochure. With the LAP protocol, officers put victims who are assessed at High-Danger for being killed by their intimate partners in touch with services that are protective. Additionally, as the criteria for the administration of the Lethality Screen does not rise to the level of probable cause, the LAP can be used even in instances when an arrest is not being made.
  • Whenever a tragic incident happens, agencies are always worried whether their responding officers are liable. The LAP, when implemented faithfully to the model, assures officers that they are taking all steps necessary and possible to prevent individual lethal or near-lethal incidents.

 For Domestic Violence Service Programs

  • The LAP offers programs the ability to reach victims who may not have otherwise reached out to them for help.
  • The lethality predictors on the Screen, and the language officers and advocates use to explain them, help victims see their situations through a different lens, and assess their danger level more realistically.
  • While the collective wisdom of the community around the unique risk factors victims face is valuable in designing programs and outreach, the LAP offers a standardized means of assessing homicide risk for victims that is based on years of research with thousands of victims across geographical, socioeconomic, and racial/ethnic lines.
  • All domestic violence is serious, but some situations are more serious than others, and the LAP offers advocates a way of targeting differentiated services for victims who are in most danger of homicide. With the LAP, advocates can rely on evidence to know how dangerous a victim’s situation is and who is in need of enhanced services, and not have to over-rely on their intuition.
  • It also exposes areas for additional training or targeted services (e.g., if the program is finding that many victims are being strangled, they may want to organize strangulation training for officers and advocates, or if the program finds that legal advocacy is the service most high danger victims need, resources can be prioritized to emphasize and strengthen the legal advocacy program).

 Effectiveness of the LAP

  • When the LAP was first developed, a member of the development committee retroactively assessed a few hundred homicide or near-homicide victims using the Lethality Screen. At that time, about 87-92% of homicide or near-homicide victims would have been assessed at High-Danger.
  • Recently, the LAP was evaluated in a study in Oklahoma.[5]
    • Study results:
      • In this study, the Lethality Screen was found to be highly sensitive, meaning it correctly identified 92% of women who experienced near-fatal violence between the baseline interview and follow-up.
      • Participants in the LAP experienced less frequent and less severe violence than victims in the comparison group.
      • They also engaged in protective actions (e.g., hiding their partner’s weapons, or accessing formal domestic violence services) more often than participants in the comparison group.
      • Abusive partners of participants in the intervention group were more likely to “go someplace where they could not see the victim” (e.g., jail). This could indicate that victims assessed through the LAP are more likely to engage the criminal justice system, or that the system sees the partners of High-Danger victims as more dangerous.
      • Participants in the LAP were significantly more satisfied with the police response than the comparison group.
  • Between 2008 and 2013, Maryland saw a 32% drop in domestic violence-related deaths. While this effect cannot be directly attributed to the LAP, increasing participation in the LAP contributed.

Intangibles of the LAP

The intangible benefits of the LAP include changes in:

  • Organizational culture. Often people enter this work energized and with the best intentions, but after hundreds of interactions with victims who do not experience near-lethal situations, a burnout can occur. The LAP re-focuses the attention back to domestic violence as being a serious issue. With the LAP, officers can help victims beyond arresting the perpetrator, or handing out a brochure. The LAP also addresses the culture of “clearing the call” as quickly as possible.
  • Sometimes, there is an antagonistic relationship between advocates and police—police are frustrated advocates cannot “cooperate” by breaking confidentiality, and advocates feel the criminal justice system re-traumatizes the victim. The coordination and communication involved in the LAP builds mutual trust and respect for each other’s roles in helping High-Danger victims.
  • By merely asking the Lethality Screen questions, the officer educates the victim on his/her danger of a lethal outcome, the potential for escalation, and warning signs to watch for that could indicate increased risk of severe injury or homicide.

 

This project was supported by Grant No. 2011-TA-AX-K111 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.  The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

 

[1] Nicolaidis, C., Curry, M.A., Ulrich, Y., Sharps, P., McFarlane, J., Campbell, D., Gary, F., Laughon, K., Glass, N., & Campbell, J.C. (2003). Could we have known? A qualitative analysis of data from women who survived an attempted homicide by an intimate partner. Journal of General Internal Medicine 18, 788-794.

[2] Sharps, P. W., Koziol-McLain, J., Campbell, J. C., McFarlane, J., Sachs, C., & Xu, X. (2001). Health care providers missed opportunities for preventing femicide. Preventive Medicine 33, 373-80.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Messing, J. T., Campbell, J. C., Wilson, J. S., Brown, S., Patchell, B., & Shall, C. (2014). Police departments’ use of the Lethality Assessment Program: A quasi-experimental evaluation. U.S. Department of Justice, Award No. 2008-WG-BX-0002.

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