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Domestic violence training in Grand Forks: New training system aims to better identify the chance of lethality and improve response

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GRAND FORKS — Domestic violence workers and police are working to better identify when a domestic disturbance can turn lethal.

The Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks is bringing in a new training method to give officers and anyone responding to domestic violence better tools in assessing how lethal any situations might be to add more certainty to getting more help faster to where it’s needed the most.

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The “lethality assessment” will make sure everyone is on the same page through a method of “scoring” victims according to risk, said Jennifer Albert, director of the Community Coordinated Response at CVIC.

So if officers relay that a victim is, say, level eight in risk, it will trigger quicker response, creating a “common language” across agencies and disciplines, Albert said.

The method is based on lots of data, giving officers a better handle on what to ask about and look for, said Kristi Hall-Jiran, CVIC director.

For example: “If someone has been a victim of strangulation, they are seven times more likely to be a homicide victim,” Hall-Jiran said.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to prevent the ultimate violence.

“We haven’t had, thankfully, a lot of domestic         violence homicides,” Hall-Jiran said. “But we did have one in 2009.”

According to news accounts, on Sept. 8, 2009, Lyle Cordts, 50, shot his wife, Julie Cordts, 47, with a handgun and then shot himself. She died nine days later. The couple had a history of domestic violence, according to police and court records.

The Cordtses’ situation inspired everyone to improve things that already have improved much in recent years, Hall-Jiran said. “We don’t ever want this to happen, so how can we start training ourselves to better prepare so we know which domestic violence situations might be most volatile.”

Connecting with victims

Albert said victims often can’t respond well in a crisis moment and often don’t recognize the danger they are in.

“One of the biggest things about the program is officers are taught how to learn more about the history of violence between the couple as well as about the level of comfort a victim is feeling,” Albert said.

At the same time, officers will be trained how to better “voice their concerns to victims about how lethal the situation is,” Albert said. “And also to connect back to victims with advocates, right away, to do planning.”

It’s not necessarily an entirely new idea or something that will add to police duties, said Capt. Mike Kirby, interim Grand Forks police chief.

“We already have a form we have used for domestic violence calls that kind of assesses lethality,” Kirby said. “This fine-tunes and revises that, not adding work but just adding a different format.”

Domestic disturbance calls for the city’s police have averaged 686 a year the past decade. But the past two years have seen a sharp decrease to the decade’s low of 632 in 2013 from the high of 789 in 2009.

“The general cooperation between us and CVIC and (others) to better train our officers … has had a positive impact,” Kirby said. The new training only will build on that, he said.

One of the key facets of the lethality assessment is making sure victims are contacted quickly after the assessment, Hall-Jiran said. CVIC has long had a 24-hour crisis line that can be the venue for more telephone contacts. “We have the infrastructure,” Hall-Jiran said.

Following up

One tangible goal is to see the number of police-referred victims who do contact CVIC keep rising, Hall-Jiran said.

In 2007, only 31 percent of 620 domestic violence victims referred by officers to CVIC actually contacted CVIC, Hall-Jiran said. In 2012, 47 percent of referred victims checked in with CVIC for further help, she said.

But that number needs to keep rising, she said.

The lethality program, however, will enhance responses throughout the system from 911 calls to following up though court hearings.

The innovative Lethality Assessment Program was developed 10 years ago by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, Albert said.

A federal grant allows the Maryland Network to accept several centers such as CVIC each year for a low-cost training, Albert said.

CVIC is waiting to see if its application is approved. But even if it isn’t awarded the subsidized training, CVIC then will raise its own funds to ensure the trainers are brought in, Hall-Jiran said.

“You know us, we will leave no stone unturned in finding the money somehow.”

A few people from each law enforcement agency that has signed on, including University of North Dakota police and the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department, will be trained and, in turn, train others within their own agencies, Albert said.

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