Advocates describe it as one step forward and a half-step backward.

Starting July 1, every law enforcement agency in Utah will be required to conduct a lethality assessment when responding to intimate partner violence, an important tool in identifying potentially deadly relationships.

That same day, nonprofits and service providers will submit a budget that’s noticeably lighter than previous years, due to a decrease in federal funds.

“It definitely puts us into a scramble to try and make sure we can cover all of our costs and still make sure we are providing the services that the survivors need,” said Ashlee Taylor, executive director of The Refuge Utah, which provides services for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

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On Wednesday, Utah leaders convened at the center’s Orem location to announce the rollout of SB117, which requires all law enforcement officers in Utah to conduct a lethality assessment when responding to intimate partner violence. The assessment will be analyzed by the Department of Public Safety.

lethality assessment asks a victim of intimate partner violence questions like: Has the person ever used a weapon against the victim? Has the person threatened to kill the victim or the victim’s children? Is the person violently or constantly jealous?

Based on the number of “yes” answers, with extra weight added to questions dealing with immediate safety or a crime, the victim is connected in that moment with a 24-hour domestic violence hotline. The hotline advocate then uses the assessment, encouraging the victim to access resources like legal services, crisis counseling or a shelter.

The full, statewide rollout starts on July 1, but the Department of Public Safety since May has operated a pilot program with 58 law enforcement agencies. In that first month, the department received 206 assessments — 128 of which suggested the victim was in a potentially lethal relationship.

When the system is fully operable, the department expects one lethality assessment to be completed every hour, on average.

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, a staunch advocate for the bill, said it breaks down the barriers that sometimes exist when police are investigating reports of domestic abuse that may have occurred across different jurisdictions. That’s what happened to her cousin, Amanda “Mandy” Mayne, last August.

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Mayne was shot and killed by her ex-husband after he spent years stalking her and threatening her family.

“He didn’t get caught because, largely, law enforcement was operating in silos. There was no communication between law enforcement agencies that were responding to different incidents. And there was also not a requirement that law enforcement conduct a lethality assessment,” Henderson said on Wednesday.  

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson speaks during a press conference at The Refuge Utah in Orem on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

She says the new bill will allow officers to take a more holistic approach to the domestic violence cases they respond to.

“Maybe that particular scene didn’t look like that big of a deal. But if you provide more information and connect some dots, maybe it is a bigger deal than it appears on the surface. And there are different decisions that law enforcement would make in those moments. That is what Senate Bill 117 does,” Henderson said.

The bill sailed through the legislature with unanimous support from lawmakers, who also passed $30 million in funding for domestic violence service providers.

Even though that’s a record amount for domestic violence resources, it fell short of the $50 million requested by advocates, who hoped to offset the decline in federal funds with state funds.

“We’re grateful for that funding, but it did not cover those losses,” said Jen Campbell, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Now, providers are dealing with smaller budgets — for Taylor at The Refuge Utah, it’s around $125,000 less than the year prior, she says.

“As we speak, our staff are working on creating a new budget based on those amounts, making sure we can cover all our staff costs and looking at where we can make those additional cuts,” she said.

Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson speaks with, from left, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson, Capt. Tanner Jensen and Jen Campbell, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, during a press conference at The Refuge Utah in Orem on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Across the board, federal funding that comes from the Crime Victims Fund through the Victims of Crime Act, under the U.S. Department of Justice, will be noticeably lighter this year. Domestic violence organizations in Utah are experiencing a minimum of 40% decrease.

The funds come from fines and fees from white collar crimes prosecuted at the federal level. Since 2019, prosecution rates for those crimes have decreased, which is reflected in the federal grants that providers can apply for. That’s despite an uptick in domestic abuse in Utah, and the country, during that same timeframe.

The decrease in funding comes at a difficult time for providers. With the statewide rollout of the lethality assessment protocol, advocates are expecting an increase in demand. More lethality assessments likely mean more victim referrals.

“We know there’s going to be an increase in those referrals. And we know those referrals are needed, we welcome them, so we need to make sure we have the capacity to meet that need,” Taylor said.

Taylor, and advocates with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, say more funding from the state in the future will ease the reliance on federal funds. When asked what the next step was, Henderson echoed that sentiment.

“It’s the funding. ... I know there are concerns that federal funding might be dwindling, so making sure the state has enough skin in the game, as we haven’t necessarily put enough resources towards this in the past. But recognizing that we can save lives by making sure our domestic violence providers, our service providers, our nonprofits, have the support that they need,” she said.