New tool helps domestic violence victims get out of dangerous situations

Canton first responders, Dearborn, Taylor police trained to use LAP tool

By Meaghan St Pierre - Producer

CANTON, Mich. - Police departments in Wayne County have a new tool to help identify domestic violence victims in high risk situations.

One in five women and one in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

"It's certainly very real in our communities and it's sort of  hidden from time to time because it usually takes place within the residence, within the home," said Canton police Officer David Eyl.

Canton police officers use the LAP tool when they respond to calls of violence in intimate partner relationships.  LAP stands for lethality assessment program. With the evidence-based tool, officers ask a series of questions that helps them evaluate the relationship, it's history and the possibility of it turning lethal in the near future.

Depending how the victim answers the questions, officers connect them with First Step, a nonprofit agency that helps victims of domestic and sexual violence.

"It really is about helping them see the situation that they are in and the dangerousness of that situation," said Jill Popovich, community response program coordinator of First Step. "A lot of times victims don't realize or tend to minimize how dangerous the situation that they are in and officers and even our 24-hour hotline worker will tell them very directly that people in their situation have been seriously injured or even killed by their partners."

The officers make a call to First Step's 24 hour hotline and give the victim a chance to talk to someone who can help them out of the dangerous situation.

"We're saying here is somebody that wants to help you, here is somebody that wants to ensure your safety here tonight. and that's certainly very powerful and you can certainly see on their faces when they work out a plan, they can have a plan and know what they're going to do the next couple hours, overnight or whatever the case may be," Eyl said.

"The most dangerous time for a woman is when she's leaving that relationship," Popovich said.

Popovich told Local 4, 75 percent of all homicides or serious injuries happen when a woman tries to leave an abusive relationship. That's one reason why after the initial call, First Step connects with the victim again within 24 hours.

"One of the main goals here is to break down the barriers, the roadblocks for that victim to leave this dangerous and difficult situation," said Canton police Officer Jacob Krogmeier. "First Step has a myriad of different things to offer. It can be financial assistance it can be housing, transportation, school supplies, there is a whole number of things that they offer to their victims."

The LAP tool is being used by all first responders including firefighters and paramedics in Canton, police officers in Dearborn and Taylor are using it too.

Popovich said just months into using it, the Lethality Assessment Program is working.

"Clients are saying, 'You've changed my life. You've saved my life. I would've never been able to do this without you,'" Popovich said. "I think it's just had a real positive impact and even if that client doesn't leave that time, they know that there is an agency out there that's waiting for them maybe the next time they'll call, maybe the next time they'll leave but we're out there and we're out to help."

In addition to helping victims leave the dangerous situation, the LAP tool can also help prosecutors with the criminal cases.

The Wayne County Prosecutor's Office participated in the training of the LAP tool. Trish Gerard, an assistant prosecutor in charge of the domestic violence unit at the prosecutor's office released the following statement about the program:

"The Lethality Assessment Program has now been instituted in three Wayne County communities: Canton, Dearborn, and Taylor. The program is designed to identify those Domestic Violence cases where lethality is high. Through the use of a simple thirteen question tool, or form, a first responder can identify the danger to the victim. In cases where it is indicated that lethality is high, immediate referrals are made to a victim Advocates and services are provided immediately. The WCPO endorses this program and participated in training our first responders. This is the type of community collaboration that is needed to combat Domestic Violence and protect our fellow citizens."

Popovich said a grant from the McGregor Foundation in 2015 helped begin a partnership with Canton police and First Step to develop a domestic violence high risk team and the development of the lethality assessment program.

First Step's 24-hour help hotline is 734-722-6800 or 888-453-5900.

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