Domestic defense: City police deploy a new tool against violence

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A new Pittsburgh Police Bureau policy aims to cut down on domestic violence by giving victims the knowledge and tools to escape from dangerous situations.

The policy is a fitting tribute to Ka’Sandra Wade, the Larimer woman whose 911 call a year ago was disconnected and the officers sent to her home left after speaking only to her boyfriend. That man later killed her and himself.

In response, Councilman Ricky Burgess began studying ways to combat domestic violence, and in May council enacted a process called the Lethality Assessment Program. The technique was created in Maryland by a retired police officer, a nurse and a committee of others who wanted to give police officers a standardized way to gauge someone’s potential of dying at the hands of a loved one. Proponents say it is being used in 32 states, mostly in departments smaller than Pittsburgh’s.

As of Monday, city officers are required, when they go on a domestic violence call, to give suspected victims an 11-point survey. If the person answers yes to any of the first three questions — if a weapon or threat of one has been used against them, if the individual has threatened to kill the victim or the victims’ children and if the victim thinks that might happen — then the person must be connected immediately to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

If the suspected victim answers yes to four of the remaining questions — they include whether the alleged assailant has a gun, is unemployed, is jealous, controlling or has left threatening messages — police also will consider the victim to be at risk of violence and officers will put the person through on a call to the center.

Although officers previously gave presumed victims a card with information on services, half of the people never followed up. This proactive method instantly provides the victims with access to trained personnel who can help them.

This approach won’t eliminate all acts of domestic violence, but it is one more tool that police officers can use to prevent attacks by educating potential victims.

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