Select A Language

PCADV’s Life-Saving Lethality Assessment Program Celebrates 10 Years

October 25, 2022

Ten years ago, thanks in part to grant funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) implemented the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP). In the last 10 years, more than 1,600 people died because of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. The LAP was launched to help prevent these numbers from growing. 

The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence developed the original program after discovering that only 4% of domestic violence homicide victims had contacted a hotline, shelter, or program prior to being killed by an intimate partner. 

With its nationally recognized program in place, PCADV used it as a guide to set up its model. 

Police who are responding to a domestic violence incident ask the victim a series of screening questions. The responses to the questions are used to determine the potential lethality of the situation.  

Depending on the victim’s answers, the officer(s) may immediately put the high-risk victim in touch with their local domestic violence program so that the victim may begin safety planning. 

“Having our police department involved in the Lethality Assessment Program has been quite a game-changer when responding to intimate partner domestic violence calls,” said Lieutenant Rodger Ollis of the Coatesville Police Department. “Utilizing the evidence-based questionnaire and protocol has allowed officers to quickly learn more about the victim’s relationship regarding risk factors and the potential of significant injury or death. Connecting victims/survivors to the Domestic Violence Center in a timely fashion is a key component of the LAP. “ 

Ollis’ department was one of the pilot programs for LAP 10 years ago. And he’s seen the program at work first-hand at his department.  

“When victims/survivors are found to be in high danger, promptly calling the hotline helps reduce the potential for homicide by connecting them to live-saving services and can help move them from victimized to empowered,” he said. 

The goal of the program is to save lives.

Another person who has seen the program since its implementation is Dr. Dolly Wideman-Scott, CEO of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County. Wideman-Scott joined Ollis to discuss 10 years of LAP during PCADV’s Ask an Advocate series on Facebook Live. 

“It’s extremely effective that the police call the hotline when they are on the scene and have our advocates explain to the victim about the services quickly,” Wideman-Scott said. “If the victim and children are interested in coming to the shelter, we work with law enforcement to make sure the family gets to the shelter program and continue with the provision of services and support the family no matter where they are at any given time.” 

The LAP Dashboard 

PCADV is doing more than just counting domestic violence fatalities. We are trying to prevent them. LAP is a nationally recognized, evidence-based initiative with demonstrated success in strengthening partnerships between law enforcement and community-based domestic violence programs. LAP connects victims of domestic violence with life-saving services, thereby reducing domestic violence fatalities. 

PCADV in collaboration with the Pennsylvania State Data Center, Institute for State and Regional Affairs at the Pennsylvania State University Harrisburg secured funding from PCCD to implement the Lethality Assessment Program digital dashboard system. 

The interactive digital dashboard visually summarizes the data PCADV receives from participating domestic violence programs and law enforcement agencies monthly. 

A 10-Year Journey 

Working closely with not only Wideman-Scott and Ollis, but everyone who participates in LAP on PCADV’s side is Lois Fasnacht. Fasnacht is a senior training specialist at PCADV and has been involved with the program since Day 1 in 2012. 

We sat down with her recently to discuss the last 10 years of LAP, how it started, where it’s going, and more. 

PCADV: How did the idea for LAP come about? 

Lois Fasnacht: We saw in 2009 that intimate partner domestic violence homicides increased 49% in two years. We realized that we had to become proactive instead of reactive, so we started researching risk assessment tools, and lethality assessment tools, and since the Maryland model of their LAP had a lot of research behind it and it was positive research, we decided to implement LAP in Pennsylvania. We started with training in 2012, and we had nine DV programs and 12 law enforcement officers that participated in implementing LAP. Since the program started, PCADV has and continues to support a voluntary adoption model. When police departments and DV programs choose to collaborate and implement LAP, it leads to better outcomes for survivors.

PCADV: After starting with nine local programs and 12 police departments, how much has it grown in the last 10 years? 

LF: We now have 48 local domestic violence programs and 436 law enforcement agencies participating in LAP. That’s just over one-third of police departments in the state.  

PCADV: How has it been received? 

LF: It’s been received very well since we’ve gone from 12 to 436 law enforcement agencies. The other thing we have seen in PA is that law enforcement—while maybe not from the first screen–but they will see a reduction in phone calls they receive from the same household.

PCADV: How much has community and law enforcement been key to the success of the program? 

LF: It’s huge. It’s the amazing job that the domestic violence programs do in recruiting law enforcement agencies to implement LAP and that the law enforcement agencies do in assisting high-danger victims to speak with a DV advocate on the hotline at the scene. Both encourage victims to seek services, which will hopefully and homicides. It’s about victims seeking services. 

PCADV: What adjustments have had to be made? 

LF: We haven’t had to make any adjustments, really. We are looking to be able to automate more by being able to show the screens and the data on the LAP dashboard on our website. To do that we would need to secure funding that allows technology investments. The only other thing we’ve had to adjust from the Maryland model is that PA advocates have a different type of confidentiality than Maryland, so we asked law enforcement when the advocates are on a phone with a victim to step away and keep eye contact to keep the conversation confidential. 

PCADV: Is there a particular stat that stands out to you the most? 

LF: The goal of the program is to save lives. It’s also having victims seek services which helps reduce homicides. Pennsylvania had 8.668 high-danger victims speak to a hotline advocate and sought services from the program. Additionally, 7,654 victims who screened in as non-high danger, did not answer the questions, the officer could not administer the screen or did not speak with a hotline advocate, or access DES program services. Over 15,000 victims in the last 10 years have sought services from the dedicated work of police and DV programs do, and I think it’s phenomenal. 

PCADV: Is there a target goal for growth? 

LF: I’m hoping that all DV programs and law enforcement agencies – including PA State Police – implement LAP. Gun violence is on the rise. Female and DV homicides have been on the rise again. I can never say LAP saved lives until I have everyone on board to see a reduction year over year. That’s my goal. That’s what I’m looking for over the next five years. 

PCADV: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

LF: I just really want to thank the law enforcement agencies and the advocates for all the hard work they do to ensure the success of this program. It’s really appreciated.