A week after seeing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) renewed in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited with committee members of Anoka County’s Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) May 2 to learn about the program, which officials hope will decrease domestic violence.
A discussion panel was set up outside the Anoka County Board room, with the county attorney, law enforcement, victims advocates and public defender representatives to explain to Klobuchar how the program works from the moment of a domestic violence call coming in.
“Domestic violence is really creeping through society,” said Anoka County Tony Palumbo.
“Here in Anoka County, the majority of the murders in the last three years have been a result of domestic violence.”
Palumbo’s predecessor as county attorney, Robert M.A. Johnson, decided to bring together representatives from numerous agencies to form a committee to look at ways to change how domestic violence incidents are handled.
The program started in 2010 when the committee selected lethality assessment model from Maryland, said Tom Wells, Anoka County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy.
Using a 14-question assessment, officers responding to the scene of a call can determine whether the victim is at risk of death, he said.
Prior to LAP, which received VAWA funds, officers only collected information regarding the current incident.
“The questionnaire gives us a bigger picture of what has gone on with the relationship, not just a snapshot of what happened in (the current incident),” Wells said.
If the victim’s answers indicate she is at risk, the officer lets the victim know that and immediately calls an Alexandra House advocate while encouraging the victim to talk to the advocate, he said.
During the 10-minute call, the advocate finds out what the victim needs and helps develop a safety plan, if needed, said Connie Moore, executive director of Alexandra House, a Blaine-based shelter for battered women and children.
Prior to LAP, officers would call Alexandra House after leaving the scene, sometime hours later or a day later, she said.
Advocates had problems reaching some victims because they moved or were staying with family or friends.
“We were not able to reach them to let them know what services are available to them,” Moore said.
Having the officer at the scene during the call helps the victims be more comfortable, she said.
Since most of the law enforcement agencies in the county have come on board with the program, Moore said Alexandra House has seen a huge increase in the number of victims it is reaching and in the amount of services it is providing.
Among the services Alexandra House provides is explaining how the court process works, helping obtain protection orders if needed and having an advocate go with the victim to meetings with the Anoka County Attorney’s victim/witness advocate.
If the case is determined to be high risk, it will come to the Anoka County Attorney’s Office for charging, said Emily Krech, who is the victim/witness program supervisor for Anoka County.
During the high risk team meetings, the advocate connects with the victim and explains their role throughout the process, she said.
Having the assessment and talking to the victim about past incidents in the relationship helps in the prosecution, Krech said.
The LAP assessment is also used by the public defenders.
Domestic violence is a social problem and children brought up in abusive homes are likely to end up in jail, said Virginia Murphrey, chief public defender in the 10th Judicial District.
LAP also includes programs for the offenders, she said.
The Intensive Domestic Abuse Pilot (IDAP) program includes monitoring, chemical treatment programs, anger management and expedited cases.
When the time comes that the offender says he can’t live like he has been anymore, “we are there with services to help,” Murphrey said.
Getting offenders into treatment programs and close monitoring helps the victim and the community as well as making recidivism less likely, she said.
With the expedited cases, which are completed within 90 days, they see less recidivism, she said.
It is an excellent program and she is glad her office is part of it, said Murphrey.
“The goal (of IDAP) is to reduce the likelihood that the person will go out and (commit) violence while pending the resolution of the (existing case),” said Dylan Warkentin, Anoka County Community Corrections director.
If considered eligible, the offender could be enrolled in IDAP and the enhanced pre-trial programs, but there is a zero tolerance policy, including no contact with the victim, he said.
If offenders successfully participate, the judge could take the offender’s behavior and compliance into account, Warkentin said.
IDAP current has 19 offenders enrolled.
The hardest part is getting offenders to participate, but as the program progresses he expects more will enroll, Warkentin said.
As a judge, receiving the results of the LAP assessment and the police report are helpful, said Judge Jenny Walker Jasper of Anoka County District Court.
The assessment and the offender’s participation in IDAP are taken into consideration when judges decide bail and sentencing, she said.
The only problem IDAP has is getting people into the program, Walker Jasper said.
“Once they are enrolled, they see we are trying to help them and it seems to be really working well,” she said.
These programs are good examples of what can be done, said Klobuchar.
Minnesota has always done well at developing domestic violence programs, she said.
While there have been improvements in domestic violence from evidence collection, victim services and interviewing of children and other witnesses, “there is still work to be done,” Klobuchar said.
Violence in the home impacts more than just the immediate victim, it impacts the whole family and the entire community, Klobuchar said.
“Kids who grow up with violence in the home are 76 times more likely to commit violence,” she said.
Domestic violence calls are some of the most dangerous calls law enforcement officers respond to, said Klobuchar, who talked about the death of Lake City Police Officer Shawn Schneider.
Schneider was shot Dec. 19, 2011 responding to a domestic disturbance between a 17-year-old girl and her 25-year-old boyfriend, Alan John Sylte Jr.
The boyfriend opened the door and shot Schneider, who later died of his injuries.
He left behind three young children, Klobuchar said.
The victims of that domestic incident included Schneider’s whole family and the community, she said.
The U.S. House has not yet acted on the legislation.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org