Shawano County law enforcement agencies, along with the Shawano County District Attorney’s Office and Safe Haven Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Support Center, recently partnered to strengthen their response to domestic violence incidents by implementing the Lethality Assessment Program, otherwise known as LAP.
It’s a national program that was developed by the Maryland Network against Domestic Violence and is another tool in the arsenal of officers to identify victims who may be at a high risk of further harm.
“Our procedure has always been to call Safe Haven from the home of the offense, but this just adds another aspect to it, where we ask these questions and then it gives us an idea if there is a high risk of homicide,” said Shawano Police Lieutenant Dan Mauel.
The assessment is an evidence based and was designed specifically to look for the potential of a homicide.
“If the victim screens in, which means they’ve answered yes to at least six of the 11 questions, then the officer would call us on scene and we would speak to the victim at the time of the incident,” explained Stacey Cicero, Director at Safe Haven.
Questions are very specific and may include asking the victim if the offender owns a gun or has easy access to one, if they’ve ever tried to choke the victim or threaten them with a weapon before, or if the offender has ever tried to commit suicide.
In 2014, Milwaukee County was the first in Wisconsin to begin using the LAP. Their implementation was the direct result of a domestic violence homicide that occurred in suburban Milwaukee.
In 2015, Shawano Police Chief Mark Kohl invited Shawano County public safety stakeholders to a meeting to discuss the LAP’s use within Shawano County. The Shawano County team wrote a grant to pay for the training and implementation, and became one of nine Wisconsin counties to participate in the LAP.
“We really haven’t changed what we do, other than we have to do the lethality assessment as part of our whole package of domestic violence [evaluations] we’ve been doing for years,” said Lt. Mauel. “It’s just one more form that we read, complete, call Safe Haven, and they then will talk to the victim.”
“It just brings attention to it,” Cicero said of the program. “Domestic violence cases are always high risk just because of the emotions that are involved with it. When you’re dealing with human relations, you’re dealing with intimate partners, emotions can run very high.”
Cicero added that the tragic events that occurred in Schofield last week were a great example of emotions running high in domestic situations.
The goal of LAP is to not only identify high risk situations when it comes to domestic violence, but also letting victims and others know there are resources available to them.
“Even if they don’t want that help that night, or they’re not thinking about help that night because they’re in crisis mode, many times we’ll get the call the next day or even a week later, sometimes longer,” said Cicero. “It’s planting that seed that there are resources available and there is help out there.”
Other agencies that underwent the LAP training in the county were the Shawano County Sheriff’s Department, Stockbridge Police Department, and Bonduel Police Department.
In its first two months of 2017, law enforcement completed 18 LAP assessments, 10 of which screened in as high danger victims.