Training aims to save lives of domestic violence victims |

Training aims to save lives of domestic violence victims

Local police and domestic violence advocates are taught the Lethality Assessment Program aimed at keeping domestic violence victims from becoming the victims of homicide on Wednesday at Colorado Mountain College.
Matt Stensland

— Local police and domestic violence advocates are hoping a new tool will help them detect whether a victim’s life is at risk.

Routt County is no stranger to domestic issues that result in lethal endings. Between 2007 and 2013, there were four incidents of murder-suicide or attempted murder-suicide in the Steamboat Springs area — a rate that was four times the statewide rate of deaths resulting from domestic violence. Two of the victims were children.

To help avoid future tragedies, Routt County’s Advocates Building Peaceful Communities applied for a grant to receive training and technical assistance through the National Lethality Assessment Program. In 2015, Advocates served 305 domestic violence victims.

Advocates was awarded the grant, and on Wednesday, local police and Advocates caseworkers learned techniques to gauge whether a domestic violence victim may be at risk.

“If we can prevent one death, then everything we do is worth it,” Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen said at the beginning of the training.

The training was taught by Abby Hannifan, with the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, and Misty Budzinski, a captain with the Westminster Police Department.

The Lethality Assessment Program, or LAP, relies on a questionnaire to measure a domestic violence victim’s risk of being killed. The questionnaire has 11 questions that have been statistically proven to help gauge a person’s risk. Among the questions are if the victim has ever been choked, threatened with a weapon or if the perpetrator is unemployed.

If a victim is identified as being at risk, victims are educated about the resources available to help keep the victim and their family safe.

Advocates Executive Director Diane Moore said the LAP program is an additional tool that can be used to help prevent future tragedies, but Budzinski cautioned that nothing is foolproof.

“The LAP is not a crystal ball,” Budzinski said. “We don’t unfortunately have that level of certainty.”

During the next several months, officers at all of the law enforcement agencies in Routt County will be trained on how to use the LAP program.

“We’re all in,” Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch said. “Whatever we need to do, we totally support our Advocates organization.”

Oak Creek Police Chief Ralph Maher and a Hayden Police Department officer were also among those who attended the training.

“Having this process is going to be a true tool for us to use,” Maher said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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