Maryland high-risk victim program to be taught elsewhere

Maryland domestic violence program to be taught elsewhere

Published October 22, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — A program developed in Maryland to get high-risk domestic violence victims to safety before they are killed will be taught in other parts of the country with the help of a federal grant.

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Donna Edwards have scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce details of the Justice Department grant, which has been awarded to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.The group will train law enforcement in other parts of the country about its Lethality Assessment Program. The program, which has been used in Maryland for several years, involves close collaboration between law enforcement and domestic violence programs.

It was recently named one of the “top 50” innovations in American government by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Institute.

Michaele Cohen, the executive director of the group, said it is the first time the program has spread outside Maryland. She also said police from other parts of the country already have expressed interest.

“We said that we would take it to five regions and that we’d ask law enforcement agencies and programs to apply as teams in urban, rural and suburban communities,” Cohen said.

Mikulski, D-Md., described the program as “the gold standard for the country.”

In the program, police officers responding to domestic violence 911 calls ask victims 11 questions to identify those most at risk of being killed by spouses or partners and refer them immediately to counseling. The questions focus on whether an abuser has ever made death threats to the victim or has a handgun.

Once a first responder identifies that a victim is in “high danger,” the officer informs the victim that people in similar situations have been killed. The officer then calls a domestic violence hotline counselor and encourages the victim to talk to the counselor.

If the victim declines, the officer seeks advice from the counselor and again encourages the victim to talk to hotline personnel.

When the victim continues to say no, the officer reviews potential factors that can lead to homicide to make the victim aware of the signs. The officer also encourages the victim to contact a domestic violence program and provides police contact information.

If the victim decides to speak with the counselor, the officer responds to the outcome of the conversation and may coordinate safety planning between the two.

In 2003, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence formed a committee of police, domestic violence advocates and researchers to develop a screen that applied the research of Johns Hopkins University researcher Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell. The committee then created guidelines to direct authorities on what to do when someone is found to be in danger.

The program was field tested in Anne Arundel and Harford Counties and the city of Frederick in 2004. It was put in place in Washington, Garrett, Calvert, Kent, Cecil and Queen Anne’s counties and the cities of Cambridge and Easton between 2005 and 2006.

Now in Maryland, 86 out of 109 law enforcement agencies in the state are participating in the program, according to the group.

In the United States, about 1,600 women are killed each year in intimate-partner homicides. In Maryland, 56 people were killed in 2006, the most recent year for which domestic violence murder statistics are available for Maryland.



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