OP-ED: Give police more tools to help victims of domestic violence
One of the unfortunate side effects of the mandates in response to COVID-19, such as the stay-at-home order, is a sharp increase in domestic violence. During the height of the stay-at-home order, police departments in York County saw upticks in the number of domestic violence calls. That includes York Area Regional Police, which saw a 36% increase, according to media reports.
A silver lining is those victims were able to call police for help. Sadly, other victims aren’t so lucky. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, because victims were trapped at home in close quarters with their assailants, they were unable to reach out for help safely and discretely.
A bill I authored that is moving through the legislative process and was just approved by the House Judiciary Committee would further aid victims who are able to call 911 for police assistance. House Bill 175 would require all municipal police officers in Pennsylvania to undergo training on assessing the lethality risk of domestic violence incidents, so they are better prepared to respond to domestic violence calls.
The bill is modeled on the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) training, which is a highly effective method for law enforcement to identify victims of domestic violence who are at the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners. Officers are trained to ask a series of questions, and certain answers can indicate an increased risk for homicide. If there is an elevated risk, the responding officer would call a local 24-hour domestic violence hotline to seek advice and would then encourage the victim to speak with the specially trained hotline advocate.
We are very fortunate that numerous police departments in our area train their officers in LAP. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 360 police agencies in 47 counties, out of 67, use the program. Though the numbers appear to be high, LAP is not universally used throughout Pennsylvania. We must work to ensure all residents of the Commonwealth are provided with the same opportunities and avenues to exit an abusive relationship and to save lives. House Bill 175 will help to do just that.
In our state, one in four women and one in seven men experienced severe physical abuse at the hands of their partner. In addition, 112 people were killed during domestic disputes last year. Only 4% of domestic violence homicide victims received domestic violence services prior to being killed, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Expanding training in lethality assessment could have helped those victims get out of terrifying situations. Over a five-year period, Maryland, which pioneered the training, saw a 32% drop in domestic violence-related deaths.
Lethality assessments of domestic violence situations have proven to work in Maryland and here in Pennsylvania by departments that train their offices to use it.
With October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I ask everyone to take a stand against domestic violence. No one should be put in a situation where there is abuse from a person who is supposed to love her or him.
If you or some you know is a victim of domestic violence, please seek help. You can call the 24-hour national hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and trained advocates are available to help every day and in over 200 languages. You can also go to www.pcadv.org and click on the tab labeled “Find Help” to chat online and find local resources. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.