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Law enforcement, advocates raise united cry to expand life-saving domestic violence initiative

In the wake of compelling success stories and growing demand from communities across the state, advocacy groups and law enforcement are making a united request for legislative funds to expand a program they say prevents domestic violence homicide.
In the wake of compelling success stories and growing demand from communities across the state, advocacy groups and law enforcement are making a united request for legislative funds to expand a program they say prevents domestic violence homicide.
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SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of compelling success stories and growing demand from communities across the state, advocacy groups and law enforcement made a united request Tuesday for legislative funds to expand a program they say is identifying domestic violence risk and preventing homicide.

Utah is making one of the biggest pushes in the country to enact the Lethality Assessment Protocol, a series of about a dozen questions designed to help first responders in a domestic violence call determine in minutes whether there is a greater risk to address, and then refer the victim to help.

Rolled out across four areas as part of a pilot program last fall, representatives from participating agencies testified Tuesday that the protocol is saving lives.

"It's going incredibly well, and frankly, as the coordinating agency, we're a little overwhelmed. We're having a hard time keeping up with the demand," said Jenn Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Funding recommendations from the subcommittee are expected Friday.

Since its implementation in the four original communities in the pilot program — Davis County, Cache County, West Jordan and Cedar City — the lethality protocol was utilized about 500 times, identifying at least 100 high-risk victims of domestic violence, Oxborrow said.

The West Valley City Police Department, which pushed to adopt the program early based on its effectiveness, has identified 27 high-risk victims since Jan. 1.

The request made to the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday sought $895,000 in one-time funding to train 500 additional law enforcement officials and victim advocates in using the Lethality Assessment Protocol, expanding the program to 18 new police agencies and five victim service providers.

Woods Cross Police Chief Greg Butler noted that the funding would not be distributed to law enforcement, but that many of the supporters asking the committee to back the request were police officials.

"We want to save lives," he said.

Woods Cross was the first department in the state to implement the Lethality Assessment Protocol in response to frightening domestic violence trends in the community. Since that time, domestic violence calls have been cut in half, the chief said, noting that officers are finding fewer instances where they return repeatedly to the same home.

Reducing domestic violence incidents also protects police, Butler said, noting that one-third of assaults on police occur during responses to domestic violence calls.

"This is making it safe for officers," he said.

Kendra Wyckoff, executive director of the Safe Harbor shelter in Davis County, said the program has led to "seamless service delivery for victims," while urging those impacted by domestic violence to honestly assess their situation.

"The victims in our community are sharing how impactful it is for them to have law enforcement tell them they are believed, and that there is concern for their safety," Wyckoff said.

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting the YWCA's Women in Jeopardy program at 801-537-8600, or the statewide Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-897-LINK (5465).

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

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