How Police Can End Abusive Relationships By Asking The Right Questions (Updated)

Thanks to new initiatives in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, police officers are saving the lives of domestic violence victims.

A new protocol, referred to as the Lethality Assessment Program, implements mandatory domestic violence training and an 11-question survey, in order to save victims from life-threatening altercations. Officers called to crime scenes related to domestic violence ask a series of questions to gauge victims’ likelihood of being killed by their attackers. If victims answer yes to the first three questions posed, or four of eight subsequent ones, officers immediately provide them with a cell phone to call a help line. The process is completed without the attacker present, and is projected to last fifteen minutes — including the time it takes to pose the questions, listen to responses, and call the help line.

The policy, first implemented in Maryland, has produced impressive results. Deaths pertaining to domestic violence have plummeted by 40 percent across the state. Throughout Pennsylvania, 50 departments have incorporated the model, and have seen a 78 percent decline in deaths related to domestic violence. The Pittsburgh City Council recently incorporated the protocol, and in the span of two weeks, 57 people spoke to an advocate on the spot, 36 of whom went to a prevention service. Officers in Columbus, OH are now following suit.

Given an alarming finding that “only 4 percent of domestic violence murder victims nationwide had ever availed themselves of domestic violence program services,” these successes have become instrumental in encouraging victims to seek assistance. Prior to the protocol, officers simply left victims with business cards for helplines. As explained by the interim executive director of CHOICES for Victims of Domestic Violence, “They’re calling the (domestic-violence) hot line with the victim, as opposed to giving the phone number and leaving the scene.”


Initiatives like the Lethality Assessment Program are ultimately tackling a national epidemic. About one in three women in the United States has been a victim of domestic violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Moreover, women of color are disproportionately impacted by partner-inflicted violence. Last November, a ground-breaking phone app was launched for victims to access critical information about domestic violence — such as how to exit abusive relationships, safely.


Early numbers show that the Lethality Assessment Program in Pittsburgh is headed in the right direction in combating domestic violence. Sgt. Eric Kroll says that 378 out of 658 people screened have reached out to domestic violence services since speaking with officers.