Collaborative Anti-Lethality Program Reduces Domestic Homicides in Anoka County, Minn.

Author:Palumbo, Tony
Position::Special Section on Domestic Violence

"I AM SCARED that the next time he gets mad and hits me that it could be the last time."

After more than 20 years of abuse, Patti (*) finally made a police report in August 2009. She had reached her "breaking point." She sought support from a battered women's shelter, she obtained an order for protection, and she filed for divorce.

But her abuser was released from jail with no conditions, no supervision, and no accountability.

Patti was dead two months later--shot and killed in her home by her estranged husband.

"She was trying to do it by herself, without any information. And at the time, we didn't have a system. We were just saying, 'Hey this is bad.' But there was no research showing what would happen," said former Chief Deputy Anoka County Sheriff Loni Payne. "She would say,'No, I can handle it; I don't want him to get in trouble.' And she ended up dead."

The next year, Payne and representatives from other Anoka County criminal justice and advocacy agencies pulled together to create a program to end domestic violence homicides.

The Anoka County Attorney's Office obtained a federal grant to fund the effort, which resulted in what is known as the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP).The LAP screening tool is used by every law enforcement department in the county, and the overall program involves a working partnership with prosecutors, courts, corrections, and service providers.

The program is designed to identify cases where there is a high risk for lethality and to immediately connect a victim with supportive services. The abuser is placed under pre-trial supervision when appropriate and the case is fast-tracked through the courts.

"If this system had been in place at the time (of Patti's death), I think the results could have been different," said Payne, who retired from the sheriff's office and now manages the LAP grant and program from the Anoka County Attorney's Office.

From the start, the program was a multi-disciplinary, collaborative endeavor. Cross-agency partnerships have been historically strong in Anoka County, and this program really highlights the importance and impact of those relationships.

Alexandra House, which provides services and shelter to victims of domestic and sexual abuse, has played an enormous role in the success of the lethality program. Alexandra House provides on-the-scene advocacy and continued assistance to victims throughout the entire court process. The agency has also taken on additional grants...

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