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Lethality Assessment Tools

Many law-enforcement agencies are now using lethality assessment tools, including the model used by most agencies in the State of Maryland. The Maryland Lethality Assessment Program for First Responders was instituted in the State of Maryland through the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence and was recently recognized as one of the Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Institute's "Top 50 Programs" of the 2008 Innovations in American Government competition. The Lethality Assessment Program (LAP) is based on 25 years of research by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, of the John Hopkins University School of Nursing, and is a result of the following bodies of research:

  • Only 4% of domestic violence–related homicide victims ever take advantage of domestic violence program services.
  • In 50% of domestic-related homicides, officers had previously responded to a call at the scene.
  • The re-assault of a high-danger victim is reduced by 60% if a domestic violence shelter is utilized.

The goal of the LAP is to prevent serious injury, re-assault, and domestic-related homicides by encouraging victims to seek out support and services provided by domestic violence programs. It includes a screening tool for first-responding law-enforcement officers and a protocol referral so that officers can initiate appropriate resources, with the goal of facilitating a conversation between the victim and a domestic violence hotline counselor.

These assessment tools primarily ask questions of victims in the form of checklists and look at factors such as prior victimization and abuse, any prior drug or alcohol abuse on behalf of the perpetrator, the perpetrator's threats toward the victim or her children, the perpetrator's access and degree of interest in weapons, violence outside the home, stalking behavior, history of suicide attempts, history of the relationship including prior breakups, the perpetrator's physical access to the victim and her family and/or relatives, and violence against family pets.

At this time, the Maryland Lethality Assessment Program may be the only system in the country that utilizes a research-based screening tool and an accompanying referral protocol that facilitates a cooperative effort between law enforcement and domestic violence programs in helping high-risk victims seek support services and domestic violence intervention programs.

The lethality assessment tool results in a score that assists law enforcement in understanding the potential threat toward a victim. It's a valuable tool from a law-enforcement perspective, but one that victims don't have available to them. Therefore, we'll add perhaps the most important tool you always have with you—your gut instinct. Listen to it. We've seen hundreds of cases where victims said they heard "a tiny voice" or had a "funny feeling" telling them not to respond to that email or that someone seems to violating their personal space or is overly friendly, and so on. Your gut instinct is there. Listen to it!

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