Lethality Assessment Program for First Responders

Published by: Dave Sargent, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

The Lethality Assessment Program or LAP, is based on the research of Jackie Campbell showing that women killed by their intimate partners had very seldom been engaged by advocates. The protocol has been designed for law enforcement first responders and asks victims eleven questions based on Campbell’s research on factors associated with lethality. Certain responses trigger the “protocol referral” which is an immediate connection with a local advocacy program.

Jackie Campbell’s Research

The murder of battered women is inherently difficult to predict, since homicide is thankfully rare. Fewer than 1% of battered women are killed. Jackie Campbell’s research examined characteristics both of women who were killed, and also women who would have died but for extreme good fortune or immediate medical care which saved their lives. Campbell named her famous tool the Danger Assessment . She is cautious in scoring, indicating levels she calls “variable danger,” “increased danger,” “severe danger” and “extreme danger.” She emphasizes that no one can really say that a battered woman is NOT in danger.

Websdale’s Analysis

This is consistent with the analysis of Neil Websdale , (Websdale, Lethality Assessment Tools: A Critical Analysis, Feb 2000) who raises two questions:

First, is there something about these relationships in which women are killed that distinguish them from the vast majority of non-lethal but nevertheless abusive intimate relationships? And second, if these lethal relationships are discernibly different, can we use these distinguishing characteristics as a means of identifying and screening out other high risk domestic violence relationships with a view to preventing their escalation to lethal outcomes?

Websdale says the simple answer to both questions is no and then explains why dangerousness is a more appropriate term:

Research into domestic homicides typically reveals these to be crimes of cumulation in which men’s violence and women’s entrapment seem to intensify over time. The absolute distinction between lethal and non-lethal cases is a false dichotomy; rather there is a range or continuum of violence and entrapment that underpins abusive intimate relationships. Indeed, it would be far more appropriate and useful to employ the term “dangerousness:” rather than “lethality” assessment…These instruments are more useful as a means of identifying future dangerousness rather than precisely predicting lethal outcomes.

The Advocate Initiated Response

So, the Maryland Lethality Assessment tool itself is not as important as the protocol it sets in place. Linking women to advocates has been demonstrated to improve women’s quality of life as well as increase their engagement with the criminal legal process. The Lethality Screen for First Responders is a tool with multiple triggers for the “protocol referral” or linkage to advocacy. Police departments trained in using this tool have certainly seen a reduction in homicide. In addition, advocacy programs initiating contact with all women screened, not just those deemed “high risk” have seen a large increase in the use of their services.

The following is excerpted from the “Lethality Assessment Program for First Responders” Report, from the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence:

The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP), currently a program for first responders, represents an opportunity born of three bodies of significant research over 25 years by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, of The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing: 1) only 4% of domestic violence murder victims nationwide had ever availed themselves of domestic violence program services; 2) in 50% of domestic violence-related homicides, officers had previously responded to a call there; and 3) re-assault of domestic violence victims in high danger was reduced by 60% if they went into shelter. The goal of the LAP is to prevent domestic violence homicides, serious injury, and re-assault by encouraging more victims to utilize the support and shelter services of domestic violence programs.

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