Lethality assessment program to be reconsidered by Legislature
A bill that would require all police departments in Pennsylvania to use a domestic-violence Lethality Assessment Program will be reintroduced to the Legislature this fall.
If the bill becomes law, it will be known as Laurie's and Barbara's Law, in memory of York County residents Laurie Kuykendall and Barb Schrum.
The two friends were murdered May 29, 2015, by Kuykendall's estranged husband, Martin Kepner, as they were retrieving some of Kuykendall's possessions from her former Wellsville-area home. Kepner committed suicide after killing the women.
State Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, announced she will reintroduce House Bill 175 and work hard to get the bill out of committee and to the House for a full vote. She said her colleagues are supportive of it. She made her announcement during a news conference at the Hanover YWCA on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
HB 175 would require police officers to receive training on using the Lethality Assessment Program, which is credited with reducing the numbers of domestic-violence homicides in Maryland by 25 percent in the last six years. It also would provide grant money to purchase cellphones and other equipment officers would need for the program, Klunk said.
11 questions: The Lethality Assessment Program gives police officers 11 questions to ask someone they suspect is a domestic-violence victim, which can help determine how much danger the person is in and whether that danger is immediate.
If the person's answers indicate an increased risk of being killed by an intimate partner, the officer tells the victim, "I believe your life may be in danger. I'd like you to talk to an expert."
"It has saved many lives," Karen Kuykendall Nordsick, Laurie's sister, said at the news conference. "Now that Laurie and Barb are angels in heaven, I'm here today to advocate for my daughters, my granddaughter, your sisters (and) your daughters. And I want to let you all know the lethality assessment program does, in fact, work."
She and Alecia Armold said they are urging the state Legislature to pass HB 175.
Early advocate: It was Armold, one of Schrum's three children, who first pushed to make the program mandatory in Pennsylvania.
Just a few weeks after her mother was murdered, Armold started an online petition to push for the program. Klunk and state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, were early supporters of Armold's efforts.
"Without Karen and without Alecia, this bill would not be possible," Klunk said, calling the program a life-saving tool.
Within a couple of months of the murders, Armold started a nonprofit organization called The Hope Shoppe to raise funds to help domestic-violence victims. Her longer-range goal is to work with existing domestic-violence advocacy groups to provide beach vacations to domestic-violence victims and their children.
The name The Hope Shoppe is a nod to the memory of Armold's mother. Schrum, 55, owned and ran Shoppe American Made in Dover, and Laurie Kuykendall, 53, was one of the local craftspeople whose work Schrum featured.
'Dramatic' results: A half-dozen police departments in York County were already using the program in 2015. That number has increased, but the exact number could not be determined.
"Every now and then in policing, a new method of doing business comes along that revolutionizes how we serve our communities," Southwestern Regional Police Chief Greg Bean said. "The Lethality Assessment (Program) for domestic-abuse cases is one of those few and rare tools for law enforcement that allows us to do our jobs better and smarter and offer some dramatic and positive results."
Penn Township Police Chief Jim Laughlin and Hanover Police Chief Chad Martin said the program has allowed their officers to help people right away who are in immediate need. They've been using the program for a number of years, they said.
Caring for community: "We're taking care of the community. That's what this whole thing is about," Laughlin said, adding domestic-violence victims have been receptive to speaking with an expert.
Both chiefs said their departments enthusiastically embraced the program early on, elated to have a tool that helps them immediately connect victims with the agencies that can help them.
Martin and Laughlin said they'll never know how many lives the Lethality Assessment Program has saved.
Hanover-area domestic-violence survivor Juliet Sharrow said many victims are torn between wanting help and fearing they will further anger their abusers.
Life and death: Sharrow said the Lethality Assessment Program is crucial and could mean the difference between life and death.
She said she was abused for three years before getting free of her abuser 20 years ago.
After the news conference, she hugged West Manheim Township Police Chief Tim Hippensteel, who she said came to her home so often for domestic-violence calls that he knew her address by heart.
"It's a terrible thing to be beaten every day," Sharrow said.
Sharrow is director of the nonprofit Love LIVES, which stands for "Living In Victory, Empowering Survivors."
Others attending Klunk's news conference included Grove; state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township; state Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Franklin Township; chief deputy prosecutor Dave Sunday; Jody Shaffer, executive director of the Hanover YWCA; Michelle Schaffer, director of Hanover Safe Home; and staff members of several other state representatives.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.
The Lethality Assessment Program's 11 questions are designed to determine whether a person is in danger of being seriously hurt or killed by an intimate partner. The questions are:
1. Has he/she ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?
2. Has he/she threatened to kill you or your children?
3. Do you think he/she might try to kill you?
4. Does he/she have a gun or can he/she get one easily?
5. Has he/she ever tried to choke you?
6. Is he/she violently or constantly jealous or does he/she control most of your daily activities?
7. Have you left him/her or separated after living together or being married?
8. Is he/she unemployed?
9. Has he/she ever tried to commit suicide?
10. Do you have a child that he/she knows is not his/hers?
11. Does he/she follow or spy on you or leave threatening messages?