risk assessment and management

Interveners must be able to see the scope and severity of the offender’s violence, how often and under what circumstances it is occurring, and the pattern of abuse: is it escalating, deescalating, potentially lethal, or unpredictable?…Victim safety can be compromised when we miss cues and information on risk and danger.Praxis International

domestic violence high risk team

The Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT) is a multidisciplinary model designed to enhance our community’s response to intimate partner violence cases that pose the greatest risk of escalating to lethal or near-lethal assault.  The purpose of the DVHRT is to:

  • Facilitate early identification of the most dangerous domestic violence offenders through research-based risk assessment
  • Establish clear channels of communication across all disciplines involved in responding to domestic violence
  • Provide coordinated, multi-disciplinary responses to highly lethal domestic violence cases

The model is based on the applied research of Dr. Jacquelyn C. Campbell, a national leader in the study of intimate partner homicide.  Dr. Campbell identified both risk and protective factors for intimate partner homicide and demonstrated that the escalation of domestic violence to lethal levels follows predictable patterns.

Leveraging Campbell’s research, the DVHRT reviews risk data from these assessments and information presented at case presentations and then develops individualized monitoring plans aimed at interrupting the cycle of escalating violence, minimizing risk of further abuse. Monitoring offenders and sharing information across disciplines helps close gaps in the system and ensure that the most dangerous cases are comprehensively and strategically addressed.

The DVHRT follows a model that is offender-focused.  Containing highly dangerous offenders through criminal justice accountability is a central strategy to preventing domestic violence homicides.  Victim safety is always considered when formulating monitoring plans and information that may increase victim safety is consistently shared and prioritized.  However, the focus of the team is to monitor domestic violence offenders who are considered highly dangerous based on the presence of risk factors that are known to predict the likelihood of fatality.

lethality assessment program (lap)

The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), is based on the research of Jackie Campbell, which showed that women killed by their intimate partners had very seldom been engaged by advocates. The LAP protocol directs members of law enforcement responding on-scene to a domestic call to conduct an 11 item lethality screen with the victim. When the protocol indicates that the victim is at high risk of lethality, the officer makes immediate contact with the local domestic violence advocacy agency (DVSAS). The victim is then encouraged, but not required, to speak with the domestic violence advocate. The responding officer and the domestic violence advocate work as partners to provide the victim with safety planning and resource information.

In 2013, representatives from all Whatcom County law reinforcement agencies attended a training on the LAP; all of these jurisdictions currently use the LAP to screen for risk. The DV Commission hosted the initial training, monitors implementation of the LAP, tracks data on high-risk domestic violence cases, and ensures on-going training.

The DV Commission is currently exploring the expansion of the LAP to health care providers, faith communities, and other disciplines.

Lethality Assessment Screen

domestic violence fatality review

In 2012 and 2013, the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence (DV Commission) and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) collaborated to convene a Domestic Violence Fatality Review (DVFR) Panel in Whatcom County.  The Whatcom County Domestic Violence Fatality Review (DVFR) Panel conducted a formal, in-depth review of three intimate partner homicide cases to learn about and improve our community response to domestic violence.

The goals of conducting the Whatcom County DVFR  were to: take a deep look what lead up to each death; identify strengths and gaps in our community’s response to the victims, abusers, and their children; strategize to enhance our strengths and address our gaps; and implement recommendations to improve the community response to domestic violence and prevent domestic violence related deaths in Whatcom County.

The DV Commission and WSCADV convened a Whatcom County Domestic Violence Fatality Review (DVFR) Panel comprised of more than 50 people, representing a variety of disciplines including: domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy, criminal and civil justice, social services, housing, health care, mental health, child welfare, faith communities, education and schools, chemical dependency, perpetrator treatment, animal control, business, and concerned citizens.

Based on the case reviews, the Whatcom County DVFR determined that domestic violence homicide is preventable in Whatcom County.  Specifically, the Panel found that:

  • Abusers consistently were not held accountable.
  • The abuse could not be stopped by victims alone.
  • Many people knew about the abuse, but did or said nothing to stop it.

From these case reviews, the Whatcom County Fatality Review Panel identified 77 recommendations.  Members of the Panel then prioritized 12 key recommendations for the prevention of lethal domestic violence incidents in Whatcom.  Implementation of many of these key recommendations is in progress, including the DV High Risk Team (DVHRT) and Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) as discussed above.

It Happened In Our Town: Findings and Recommendations from the Whatcom County Domestic Violence Fatality Review (DVFR) can be found here.

assessment of community response to sexual assault

The DV Commission recently received a grant award to research strengths and gaps in our community response to sexual assault, and to oversee implementation of new programs, polices, training, and services to address gaps.

In 2017, the DV Commission will lead a team of community partners from key disciplines to conduct a Community Safety Assessment of our current response to adult and adolescent victims of sexual assault.  As part of this Assessment, we will conduct text analysis of reports and files, track data, observe court cases, interview policy makers and front line responders, listen to 911 calls, and facilitate victim focus groups.

Our Assessment team will analyze all of the information gathered to develop our findings and recommendations.  The Assessment team will then prioritize our most urgent gaps, and grant funding will be used to implement changes to these prioritized recommendations.

Community Safety Assessment team members will include representatives from the advocacy, health care, law enforcement, prosecution, mental health, court, and education systems.  Our team will receive technical assistance to conduct the Community Safety Assessment from Praxis International, and the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA).