Calera PD works to prevent domestic violence

By CHRISTINE BOATWRIGHT / Staff Writer

CALERA – The Calera Police Department is taking steps to identify and prevent domestic violence by implementing the Lethality Assessment Program.

The program, which was developed at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, encourages police officers to utilize a questionnaire when dealing with potential domestic violence victims while on a scene.

“Officers are trained on how to use the lethality assessment. Everything from the rapport you want to establish before asking some personal, sensitive questions to the manner you ask those questions,” said Allison Dearing, director of Coordinated Community Response.

If an officer feels a situation is potentially dangerous, the officer will ask three questions of assessment. The first question asks if the potential domestic violence offender has ever used a weapon or threatened to use a weapon against the potential victim. The second and third questions ask if the potential offender has ever threatened or tried to kill the potential victim or his or her children.

“A lot of times victims haven’t heard these questions and put it all together,” said Mitzie Wheat of Calera Police’s victim services.

If the person answers negatively to any of the first three questions, the officer can use seven additional questions to further assess the situation.

“If a victim is assessed at high risk, the officer can make a suggestion on the scene to connect them with a counselor,” said Catherine Roden-Jones, program director of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. “They can get on the phone with a police officer standing by.

“Many victims are left with information, but never built up that courage to make the call,” she added. “Being able to do that on the scene with an officer equipped to be able to say you’re not only in danger, but in mortal danger has been incredibly effective.”

If the person seems at-risk, the officer will call SafeHouse of Shelby County or the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama if the person is Spanish speaking.

Alabama is ranked second in the nation for females murdered by males, according to Roden-Jones. Calera Police has been the first agency in the state to employ the program.

Wheat said Calera Police trained in February and implemented the program in mid-March.

“We probably don’t have any more domestic violence cases than anyone else does,” she said. “We try to be proactive and do things to be more preventive,” she added.

The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham supplied funding for the LAP program, and LAP involves a partnership among the Calera Police Department, SafeHouse of Shelby County, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Coordinated Community Response and the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence.