Domestic violence screening expands rapidly through Pa.

Maria Yohn
York Dispatch
Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, held a press conference Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, and urged the passing of House Bill 175 to make the Lethality Assessment Program mandatory for all Pa. police departments.
(Liz Evans Scolforo photo)

Over 16,000 domestic violence victims have been screened using the Lethality Assessment Program in the five years since it was implemented in Pennsylvania.

"The Lethality Assessment Program: Five Years Later" was recently released by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which brought the program to the state with grant funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime Delinquency. It was originally piloted in 18 counties, including York County.

The Lethality Assessment Program is a system in which police can screen a domestic-violence victim using an 11-question, evidence-based screening tool to determine if the victim's life may be in danger. Victims who are deemed high risk are immediately connected to a local domestic-violence hotline for advice and services.

The program also is the subject of House Bill 175, which was introduced to the state Legislature in 2017 by state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover. The bill would require all police departments in the state to use the program, and it's currently sitting in the state House Judiciary Committee.

If passed, it will be known as Laurie's and Barbara's Law, in memory of York County residents Laurie Kuykendall and Barbara Schrum, who were killed in May 2015 by Kuykendall's estranged husband, who then took his own life.

Alecia Armold, left, and Karen Kuykendall Nordsick attend a press conference Aug. 8, 2017, by state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, who urged the passage of House Bill 175, which would require all Pennsylvania police departments to use the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) in PA, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017.  Armold's mother, Barb Schrum, and Nordsick's sister, Laurie Kuykendall, were murdered by Laurie's estranged husband in 2015. 
(Liz Evans Scolforo photo)

The report: The recent report indicated that 280 law-enforcement agencies and 45 domestic violence programs are now participating in LAP across the state.

Of 16,487 victims screened, 69 percent were found be in high danger, 23 percent were not and 9 percent did not answer. Of the total high-danger victims screened, 63 percent spoke with a hotline advocate, and 63 percent of the victims who spoke with a hotline advocate decided to access services, according to the report.

Julie Bancroft, director of public affairs for the coalition, emphasized that an additional 2,838 victims who screened in as not in high danger, did not answer the questions or did not speak with a hotline advocate at the scene still accessed program services. 

How it works: According to Lois Fasnacht, LAP program manager and training specialist, LAP was modeled after a similar plan developed by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence in conjunction with Jacquelyn Campbell of Johns Hopkins University.

Karen Kuykendall Nordsick (at left) and Becky Schrum (at right) smile after placing the final puzzle piece at the annual "PA Says No More" ceremony to remember victims of domestic homicides. Nordsick's sister and Schrum's mother were murdered earlier this year.

They developed the plan after they discovered that only 4 percent of domestic-violence homicide victims had reached out to a domestic-violence program before their deaths. Since then, studies have shown that victims who did use domestic-violence services were less likely to be revictimized.

Furthermore, between 2008 and 2013, Maryland saw a 32 percent drop in domestic violence-related deaths, according to the report.

Fasnacht, who trains police on the proper use of the tool, says it uses 11 evidence-based questions such as “Have they ever tried to choke you?" that indicate if a victim’s life may be in jeopardy.

If a person receives a high-risk result, they are immediately connected to a local domestic-violence hotline. In York County, those are Access-York and Hanover Safe Home.

A 24-hour safety plan is put in place, and the victim is encouraged to continue utilizing the services, Fasnacht said.

“It’s a strong collaboration between police and the domestic-violence program,” Fasnacht said.

More:EDITORIAL: Punishing those fleeing domestic violence

More:Lethality assessment program to be reconsidered by Legislature

More:Editorial: Support victims of domestic violence

York County's role: The York Area Regional Police Department was among the first police departments in the state to adopt the LAP pilot program in 2012. York Area Regional Police Sgt. Ken Schollenberger is quoted in a section of the report attesting to the importance of talking with victims and connecting them to needed resources.

"As law-enforcement officers, we're trained to interview people based on successful cases and successful prosecution," he said. "And a lot of times, if a police officer is at the scene that's believed to be domestic, and we know we're going to be back, we now have the research and backing to know within a certain degree that this person is in danger of being killed," he said.

York Area Regional Police were later joined by the following police departments: Fairview Township, Hellam Township, Northeastern Regional, Northern York County Regional, Southern Regional, Spring Garden Township, Springettsbury Township, West Manchester Township and York City.

After leaving her husband, Laurie Kuykendall Kepner, left, spent time with sister Karen Kuykendall Nordsick and learned to "spread her wings," according to Nordsick. "We had so many plans, so many things we were going to do together," she said.

York County cases: Domestic violence-related homicides have been down in the past few years, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay, and none have been reported in 2018. 

Gay said that 2015 was one of the worst years on record for domestic violence-related homicides in York County. One of the most notable was a murder-suicide on May 29, 2015, that resulted in the deaths of Kuykendall, 53, of West Manchester Township, and Schrum, 55, of Dover, who are named in House Bill 175. 

Police found the bodies of the two women at a residence on the 1600 block of Lisburn Road in Warrington Township after Kuykendall's estranged husband, Martin Kepner, 60, of that address, killed them and then turned the gun on himself.

Coroner: Victim in Warrington Twp. double-murder suicide was divorcing husband

Another incident occurred July 2, 2015, at Flapjack’s Restaurant and Pub in Dillsburg.

Sharon Williams, 33, of Mount Holly Springs was shot several times while sitting in the outdoor seating area by former boyfriend Arthur Guise, 31, of Dillsburg, who then turned the gun on himself. 

Gay said that even though there have been fewer domestic-violence-related homicides in the county, even one is too many. Therefore, she is highly supportive of LAP.

"I think it's a great program, and I'm hopeful that all law-enforcement agencies will use it," she said.

"Those that have implemented it are pleased with it," she said.

Police close investigation into murder-suicide outside Dillsburg bar

Future growth: Forty-five of Pennsylvania's 67 counties have adopted LAP in the hopes of preventing similar murders, and the coalition hopes to expand that number.

Fasnacht said that while it's difficult to credit LAP for saving a designated number of lives, as there are too many confounding variables, she is happy with the sheer number of victims in Pennsylvania who have been exposed to domestic-violence interventions in the past five years of the program.

"That's a success," she said.

Once the program is fully available throughout the state, the coalition will be able to gather statistics on the effect LAP has on reducing intimate partner homicides, according to the report.

More:EDITORIAL: Domestic violence bill is common-sense

“The program has grown significantly. The hope is that this program will continue to grow,” Bancroft said.