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WU study finds TPD domestic violence risk analysis effective, recommends improvements

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FILE(Phil Anderson)
Published: Sep. 11, 2021 at 4:39 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - In the wake of a young Topeka couple’s murder-suicide, a study from Washburn University has found that the Topeka Police Department’s domestic violence risk analysis works, but has also recommended areas for improvement.

In the U.S., Washburn University says an estimated 10 million residents experience domestic violence each year. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, almost 20 people every minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. In Kansas, WU said 35.9% of women and 31.1% of men face abuse each year.

In addition to potentially arresting the perpetrator, WU said when an officer deals with an abusive situation they have the chance to assess the lethality risk of that relationship. Then, it said officers can help the victim find resources to prevent a potentially deadly event in the future.

Washburn said this is why the Topeka Police Department has turned to the WU Department of Social Work to verify the effectiveness of its Lethality Assessment Program and hear from officers as well as community partners about how well it works.

“The Lethality Risk Assessment (LRA) has been used at the Topeka Police Department since 2012 but it hasn’t been evaluated scientifically until now,” said Dr. Beth O’Neill, author of the evaluation and the principal investigator on the project.  “Newer officers are receiving training at the police academy while others received more informal training about the process.”

Wherever the training takes place, WU said the process in the field is identical. Officers use a predetermined set of questions within the LRA to decide the level of risk for a potentially deadly incident of domestic violence in that relationship. A yes answer to some questions like, “do you think they might try to kill you?” automatically triggers a referral for further assessment and services from the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment. It said other questions carry less individual weight but could combine to trigger further action.

Dr. O’Neill said she interviewed officers using the assessment tool as well as community partners that use the information, such as YWCA staff who provide victim assistance and the Shawnee Co. District Attorney’s Office. In addition, Dr. O’Neill said she did a quantitative analysis of the individual cases and compared results to the presence of future incidents of domestic violence in that relationship.

“The results show that the LRA instrument used by the TPD performs on par with other LRA instruments and is effective in determining relationships at high risk for lethal domestic violence, and is viewed favorably and as useful by officers and community partners,” said Dr. O’Nell.  “It does have a high rate of false positives, but that is considered acceptable since a positive primarily triggers a referral to services.”

While the study did show that the use of the LRA was effective, Washburn said it did note some areas for improvement as TPD moves ahead. Specifically, the study suggested additional targeted training for TPD personnel with particular emphasis on the Field Training Officers and cross-training with the YWCA.

“One officer even suggested cross-training that would walk police officers through the process at the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment so they can help explain to victims exactly what happens next,” O’Neill said.  “That way, the officer said, we’d be ready with an answer when a victim asks, ‘what good does it do me to call?’

In addition, the University said the study recommended routine refresher courses for officers to emphasize the importance of the LRA and connecting victims to YWCA services.

TPD Major Russell Klumpp said that he was excited to hear about the positive results from the study and wants to continue to improve efforts to help victims of domestic violence.

“When I created this tool for our officers to use, I did not know what the impact would be or if it could really make a difference,” Klumpp said.  “The design is based upon other scientifically tested clinical instruments so I really felt we could improve the services provided by our officers to victims of domestic violence and guide those victims to resources that could help them.”

Major Klumpp said that officers and the Crime Victims Assistance Coordinator, Dawn Maendele, have put a lot into the program over the years and that he feels satisfied to know those efforts have now scientifically been validated.

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