Lethality Assessment Protocol

Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Subject MatterArticles
CJR699672 384..399 Article
Criminal Justice Review
2017, Vol. 42(4) 384-399
Lethality Assessment Protocol:
ª 2017 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
Police Perceptions of a Domestic sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817699672
Violence Intervention
Tanya M. Grant1 and Bronwyn Cross-Denny2
This exploratory, qualitative research study examined the attitudes and barriers police officers
identified in successful implementation of the lethality assessment protocol (LAP), a collaborative
intervention between police departments and domestic violence advocacy agencies in the state of
Connecticut. Focus groups were conducted at three police departments to ascertain officers’
perceptions of the LAP. Officers (N ¼ 22) were recruited through an individual contact at each
department. Responses to focus group questions indicated both system-wide and individual police
department barriers. Results showed officers generally support the protocol and believe it has
beneficial intent and purpose. Obstructions identified include timing of the implementation, lack of
victim cooperation, and agency culture. Implementation barriers and officers’ attitudes are
lethality assessment, domestic violence, police attitudes, femicide, spousal homicide
Domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) remain a serious problem in the United
States and abroad despite increasing public awareness and criminal justice response. The most
recent data, from the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, indicate that
over 10 million women and men in the United States experience physical violence each year by a
current or former intimate partner (Breiding et al., 2014).
DV is a pervasive social issue requiring a comprehensive response from agencies across various
sectors (Hines & Malley-Morrison, 2005; Messing, Campbell, Wilson, Brown, & Patchell, 2015).
Professionals are recognizing that how communities respond to DV directly impacts each victim’s
safety and well-being. Approximately four decades of research on DV has captured the knowledge
and experience of victims, practitioners, advocates, and academic researchers, in order to create
policy initiatives, guide legislative activities, develop standards and protocols, and enhance
1 Department of Criminal Justice, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT, USA
2 Department of Social Work, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT, USA
Corresponding Author:
Tanya M. Grant, Department of Criminal Justice, Sacred Heart University, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06825, USA.
Email: grantt266@sacredheart.edu

Grant and Cross-Denny
protection and intervention strategies for victims (Sheehan, Murphy, Moynihan, Dudley-Fennessey,
& Stapleton, 2014).
The current study examined police officers’ attitudes and perceptions of the lethality assessment
protocol (LAP), a new intervention utilized by law enforcement officers when responding to DV
calls. While several different interventions have been implemented throughout the last two decades,
LAP is the newest addition being utilized by police at the scene of the incident. Although previous
risk assessments have been designed for use with first responders, the LAP is the first risk assess-
ment created for first responders that asks questions only of the victim of violence, is designed to
predict severe violence/homicide risk, and is intended to maximize sensitivity when responding to
these types of calls (Messings et al., 2015). Many states have experienced great success with LAP
implementation. The success of LAP has been evidenced by decreased rates of intimate partner
homicide, increased rates of victims seeking and participating in DV services, and stronger colla-
borative efforts between law enforcement and local DV agencies (Klein, 2012).
Maryland has had a high success rate in employing this LAP model. In 2014, Maryland law
enforcement officers identified 5,599 high-danger victims through the LAP. Of these, 2,841 (51%)
immediately spoke with a DV advocate. Of those, 1,391 (49%) took part in additional program
services provided through the agency (Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence [MNADV],
2015). Other law enforcement agencies throughout the United States have also experienced success
in employing the LAP: Kansas City, Missouri; Anoka County, Minnesota; and New York City, to
name just a few.
Police officers are tasked with the responsibility of intervening in DV incidents, providing the
victim with safety and resources, keeping the peace, and enforcing the law. And it is apparent that
general police attitudes and beliefs about DV are likely to influence their response to these calls.
Only recently have there been studies focusing on law enforcements’ perceptions and attitudes
regarding DV (Gover, Paul, & Dodge, 2011; Ruff, 2012). The successful implementation of LAP
is truly dependent upon how the victims respond to the police officer’s initial contact, how officers’
introduce LAP to victims, and how effectively officers’ work in collaboration with the DV agency
within their jurisdiction. This study specifically looks at the responding officers’ attitudes and
perceptions regarding LAP and what factors, if any, have contributed to their viewpoints.
Literature Review
Law Enforcement and DV
The extensive literature on the subject of DV has created a context for social policy initiatives as
they attempt to tackle this pervasive societal issue (Messing et al., 2016). Moreover, while it is
obvious DV needs to be addressed at all levels of society, none may be more important than the
role of the responding police officer (Klein, 2012). The early trends of the 1980s showed that the
arrest of an abuser significantly reduced repeated incidents of abuse, compared to interventions
using medication and counseling (Radatz & Wright, 2016). However, this method was only found
to be successful when the victim made reports of the abuse to law enforcement (Eke, Hilton,
Harris, Rice, & Houghton, 2011). Mandatory arrest policies resulted in dual arrests, where both
victims and perpetrators were arrested even though the victims were simply trying to protect
themselves. Dual arrests became the norm in many jurisdictions, and poor training and the
inability of the responding officers to identify the primary aggressors emerged as target problems
with this intervention (Ruff, 2012).
The 1990s heralded interventions, such as dedicated DV law enforcement units within the
criminal justice system, becoming the standard protocol. Dedicated law enforcement units worked
directly with specialized court dockets to provide a more comprehensive approach to keep victims

Criminal Justice Review 42(4)
safe and offenders accountable resulting in a 50% decrease in subsequent offenses (Messing, Ward-
Lasher, Thaller, & Bagwell-Gray, 2015).
It is important to examine officers’ attitudes about DV and DV interventions for several reasons.
Researchers have noted that law enforcement officers view their work as being stressful and report
frustration, especially when responding to DV calls. These feelings may lead to officers not giving
the needed attention to new protocols and, thereby, hindering implementation. Also, scholars have
noted that there is a void in the literature in terms of studies that document law enforcement officer
perceptions of DV in general (Grover, Paul, Dodge, 2011; Logan, Shannon, & Walker, 2006; Ruff,
2012). This study aims for a comprehensive examination of our first responder’s thoughts and
feelings related to the LAP.
Besides training police to foster more helpful attitudes toward DV calls, and therefore improve
interactions with the victims, lethality assessments also have a key role to play in assisting victims to
understand the risks associated with their relationships. This intervention tool may then contribute to
a long-term reduction of repeat DV calls and to DV incidents overall.
The LAP model developed by the MNADV in 2005 was employed to provide victims with more
timely intervention and connection to services. LAP is an innovative model designed to assist trained
law enforcement officers on the scene of a DV incident to identify victims at the greatest risk of
being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners and to more effectively link them with a
local DV agency to receive services. The process is straightforward and begins when an officer
arrives at the scene of a DV incident. Officers are trained to use the LAP near the end of an
investigation involving a past or current intimate relationship and when there is a manifestation
of danger defined by the presence of at least one of the following criteria: (a) the officer believes an
assault or other violent act has occurred, whether or not probable cause exists for arrest, (b) the
officer is concerned for the safety and well-being of the victim once they leave the scene of the
incident, (c) the officer is responding to a repeat call from a victim or location where DV has
occurred in the past, or (d) the officer has a “gut feeling” that the victim is in danger (Campbell,
Webster, & Glass, 2009). If the victim’s responses put him or her in the high-risk category, the
officer places a call to the local DV 24-hr hotline and encourages the victim to speak with the
advocate. The advocate can then provide the victim with service information, education, and emer-
gency shelter if needed.
Adoption of lethality assessment programs is on the rise in police departments (as of 2015,

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