A Closer Look at the Lethality Assessment Program

Sidebar to the article Research Designs in the Real World: Testing the Effectiveness of an IPV Intervention by Jill Theresa Messing, Jacquelyn Campbell and Janet Sullivan Wilson

The dual goals of the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) are to educate intimate partner violence (IPV) victim-survivors about risk factors for homicide and to connect them with support and safety planning services. Collaboration, education and self-determination are the touchstones of this intervention.

Near the end of an investigation at an IPV incident scene, the police officer will administer a brief risk assessment screen to the victim-survivor. This "Lethality Screen" is an 11-item questionnaire that assesses the victim-survivor's level of risk for being killed by the IPV offender. It is suggested that the officer use the Lethality Screen when a past or current intimate partner relationship is involved and there is a "manifestation of danger" by evidence of at least one of the following: (1) The officer believes that an assault or other violent act has occurred, whether or not there was probable cause for arrest, (2) the officer is concerned for the victim-survivor's safety once they leave the incident scene, (3) the officer is responding to a domestic violence call from a victim-survivor or at a location where IPV has occurred in the past, or (4) the officer has a gut feeling that the victim-survivor is in danger.

See "Domestic Violence Lethality Screen for First Responders" (pdf, 1 page).

If a victim-survivor screens in as "high risk," which means an increased risk of homicide, the police officer responds proactively with the "Protocol Referral." The police officer conveys to high-risk victim-survivors the danger that she or he is in — that people in similar situations have been killed. The officer calls the local 24-hour domestic violence hotline at the collaborating advocacy organization for information on planning for the victim-survivor's safety and gives the victim-survivor the choice of speaking directly with the hotline advocate.

After initiating the call, the officer provides the hotline advocate with basic information that will help him or her develop safety suggestions for the victim-survivor. If the victim-survivor chooses not to speak on the telephone, the hotline advocate provides the officer with some immediate safety planning tips for the next 24 hours to share with the victim-survivor.

If the victim-survivor chooses to speak with the hotline advocate, the conversation is brief and focused, both because the officer must return to service and because the victim-survivor might not be in a position to absorb a great deal of information. Being on the phone with the victim-survivor at an IPV incident scene is a different type of call for a hotline advocate: Time is limited, and the victim-survivor might not have come to terms with the seriousness of the situation yet. Hotline counselors are trained to use special guidelines to (1) gain the victim-survivor's trust, (2) reinforce the officer's warning about the danger that the victim-survivor is in (and thus reinforce the partnership with law enforcement), (3) educate the victim-survivor and conduct immediate safety planning and (4) actively encourage the victim-survivor to seek available services.

Back to: Research Designs in the Real World: Testing the Effectiveness of an IPV Intervention