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New program to assist domestic violence victims

Turningpoint Executive Director Alena Taylor said the program is a joint effort between Turningpoint, North Hudson police department, and the St. Croix County Sheriff's department who will all work with End Abuse Wisconsin to be properly trained in the program. Sara Tischauser / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Mark Richert, North Hudson chief of police, is excited to be starting the Lethality Assessment Program at the North Hudson Police Department and the St. Croix County Sheriff's department. Submitted photo2 / 2

St. Croix County sheriff's office and North Hudson police department are working with Turningpoint for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence to start a new program in the area to help domestic violence victims.

Turningpoint Executive Director Alena Taylor said the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) is a tool that law enforcement officers can use while responding to domestic violence calls that can help them evaluate victims' situations.

North Hudson Police Chief Mark Richert said he heard about LAP years ago and thought the program would be a good tool for his department. He said LAP allows them to keep a domestic violence call victim-focused and assess the potential lethality involved.

When responding to a domestic violence call, Richert said the hope is that not only will LAP benefit the victim, but it will help officers understand the situation.

"Domestics are the most violent calls we go on," Richert said. "High emotions. Sometimes victims can be mad because you are taking away their support."

However, understanding what the victim may be going through can help officers understand these emotions and the situation.

Richert said when responding to domestic violence calls, officers have been giving victims a packet of information from Turningpoint about options and help contacts. However, he said they realized this was not always beneficial for victims.

The packet of information, Richert said, was not the best way to get information to those in domestic violence situations. Many times the victim may worry about the offender finding the information and getting mad, so the victim wouldn't keep the information. Or in some cases the victim was scared to use his/her personal cell phone for fear of the offender finding out he/she had called for help.

But with LAP, some of these issues may be alleviated. With this program a law enforcement officer will use a lethality screening of 11 questions to see what level of lethality danger a victim is in. The responses given will determine what the law enforcement officer does next.

"It's a tool for law enforcement to use on scenes of domestic violence," Taylor said. "To evaluate the lethality of a victim. To connect survivors with community-based services, likely reduce likelihood of lethality."

Once victims answer the 11 questions, the officer will determine if the person is in high danger. If the answer is yes, the officer will then ask the victim if he/she wants to talk to Turningpoint using the officer's cell phone. But if the victims say no, the officer will still make the call. Once the officer has Turningpoint on the phone, the officer will once again ask the victim if he/she wants to talk to Turningpoint. If the victim still doesn't wish to talk to Turningpoint, Taylor said they will still help the victim.

"If [victim doesn't] want to speak to us we'll safety plan through the officer," Taylor said.

This safety plan can include information on emergency restraining orders, safe housing, transportation, and resources available.

In 2017, Turningpoint Legal Services Coordinator Hannah Blaha said Turningpoint provided shelter to more than 600 clients (190 of these clients were under 18) and assisted more than 160 clients who were considering filing restraining orders.

She said sometimes the abuser comes back before the victim is ready because the victim feels there are no other options. Taylor said they want to make sure victims with economic issues are aware of options and meeting daily needs for food and hygiene.

Even if a victim's score on the lethality screening doesn't put them in high danger, Taylor said an officer can still choose to call Turningpoint.

"Victims may minimize some of experience; it's hard to admit experience to someone else," Taylor said.

No matter what the danger assessment is, Taylor said they will treat all calls to Turningpoint the same way.

"Nothing changes with Turninpoint's level of service with severity," Taylor said.

By taking some of the responsibility on themselves as officers by asking the questions and calling Turningpoint if necessary, officers are hopefully helping the problem from recurring, Richert said.

"[Victims can] get more assistance early on, instead of repeating cycle," Richert said.

Starting LAP is a collaborative effort between Turningpoint, North Hudson police department and St. Croix County sheriff's office. Richert said he will be trained by End Abuse of Wisconsin as will someone from SCSO in June. Once End Abuse of Wisconsin does the training, officers will take training back to their departments and train the rest of the officers on LAP.

"Training to all employees will occur within four months of the June date," Richert said. "By October this [LAP] will roll out to the agencies and roll out into the streets."

Going forward, LAP training will be part of the field training for all new officers that are hired in North Hudson.

When the program is implemented and officers are able to start using it on calls, Taylor said domestic violence victims will get help much faster.

"The faster they get connected the safer it will be, important for their own safety," Taylor said.

Richert said eventually the hope will be to expand LAP to other police departments in the area.