Rutland County police and advocates focus on domestic violence
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | January 08,2013
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
Marianne Kennedy speaks during a press conference regarding new tactics toward addressing domestic violence at the city police station Monday.
Police and domestic violence advocates in Rutland County say they are using a new tool to assist people in abusive relationships to get help and get out alive.
That tool is a short questionnaire that members of the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter said Monday is a proven predictor of abusive relationships so violent that they could end in homicides.
“It’s used to determine how much risk a victim is experiencing at the moment,” said Women’s Network director Marianne Kennedy, flanked by law enforcement officers from five Rutland County agencies along with the county state’s attorney during a press conference inside the Rutland City Police Department on Monday.
“It allows officers to quickly assess the risk level and to contact an advocate to get the victim involved in the system immediately,” Kennedy added.
And the questionnaire, developed in Maryland a decade ago, is only 11 questions long.
A “yes” answer to any of the first three questions — have you ever been injured by or threatened with a weapon? Has there been a threat to kill you or your children? Do you think your abuser might try to kill you? — would automatically prompt a call to a Women’s Network advocate who would inform the abused individual of the options and supports available to them if they wanted to leave the relationship.
Four “yes” responses to any of the remaining seven questions would engender the same result, Kennedy said.
A sampling of those questions include queries about the suicidal intentions displayed by the abuser, their employment status, the abuser’s level of jealousy and whether the abuser has been spying or leaving threatening messages.
The simplicity of the survey — officially known as the Lethality Assessment Program — belies its importance, domestic abuse advocates say.
In Washington County, the only area of Vermont where police and domestic violence groups have adopted the screening tool, Meg Kuhner, co-director of Circle, said her group has seen great benefit from LAP.
“The best thing about it is the connection between the advocates and the police which is something I would personally like to see more of,” she said. “We’ve seen some victims that we never would have heard from if not for this program.”
That’s exactly the kind of results that Kennedy and her law enforcement partners in Rutland County are hoping to see.
Kennedy said one of the biggest reasons for strengthening the working relationship between police and the Women’s Network was encapsulated in a statistic that showed that of the men and women killed in domestic situations nationwide only 4 percent had prior contact with domestic violence advocates while police had interacted with roughly half of the victims at least once before the fatal incidents occurred.
That statistic was attributed to 2004 study that spanned 25 years of domestic violence incidents.
“This is another avenue for voice to voice communication with an advocate,” said Rutland County Sheriff Stephen Benard. “Victims often feel that they’re the only person in the world afflicted with the situation they face. We have better outcomes when victims can get in touch with advocates.”
Benard was joined at the announcement by members of the Rutland, Brandon, Castleton and Fair Haven police departments where officers have taken a one-day training session for utilizing the screening tool. Kennedy said advocates would also like to incorporate Vermont State Police, which patrols much of the county, into the program.
Jennifer Firpo, a legal advocate with the Women’s Network, estimated that one-half of the roughly 140 people in Rutland County who call for help in domestic violence situations each year fall into the “high danger” category. Of the 70 people in that category, she said about one-third could be expected to take advantage of services to help them out of their abusive relationships, Firpo said basing her estimates on projections supplied by the LAP program.