CU Boulder police sergeant leads efforts to train officers in the Lethality Assessment Tool


University of Colorado Boulder Police Chief Doreen Jokerst and Sgt. Eric Edford at the Beth Haynes Memorial Awards ceremony. (Courtesy University of Colorado Boulder)

A sergeant at the University of Colorado at Boulder is leading the way in using an assessment tool used to determine a victim’s level of danger of domestic violence, and officials hope the tool will soon be used across the county.

The Lethality Assessment Program was initiated by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, based on research on the characteristics of domestic violence cases that have resulted in the death or imminent death of women.

The assessment tool was in use in Douglas County, Colorado. So when Doreen Jokerst left Parker to become Police Chief at CU Boulder, she asked Sergeant CU. Eric Edford to consider bringing the tool to Boulder.

“The reason we love this (assessment tool) is the scientific research that supported it,” said Edford, who is part of the department’s investigative unit. “That’s why we were really drawn to it. “

The assessment tool consists of eleven questions. An agent responding to the scene of a domestic violence call that determines that the case meets response-based criteria will automatically follow a defined protocol that connects the victim to domestic violence resources.

“That way we can help them be safe and provide them with that ongoing support,” Edford said. “The ideal goal is to save lives and prevent things from happening again, but also to provide them with tools. “

The protocol is triggered automatically if the victim answers yes to one of the following three questions:

  • Has he ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?
  • Did he threaten to kill you or kill your children?
  • Do you think he / she could try to kill you?

The protocol is also triggered if the victim answers yes to four of the following eight questions:

  • Does he / she have a gun or can he / she get one easily?
  • Has he ever tried to strangle you?
  • Is he violently or constantly jealous or does he control most of your daily activities?
  • Did you leave or separate after living together or getting married?
  • Is he unemployed?
  • Has he ever tried to kill himself?
  • Do you have a child who he knows is not his?
  • Is he following you, spying on you, or leaving you threatening messages?

Boulder County Assistant District Attorney Anne Kelly, who leads the office’s recently established Domestic Violence Response Team, said she believes this assessment tool is effective because it takes into account knowledge of the victim and the entire history of the relationship so that assessments that rely on criminal history or the facts of the current case do not.

“What I like about this assessment tool is that the risk information comes from the victim,” Kelly said. “The victim is the most reliable and effective predictor of risk. “

As an example, Kelly noted the question, “Do you think he / she could try to kill you?” “

“It cannot be answered by data or history,” Kelly said. “That can only be answered by this victim.”

But while much research and studies have been devoted to examining risk factors, Edford noted that using the assessment is a simple yes or no question and easy for officers on the scene.

“That’s the right thing, the questions themselves are pretty self-explanatory,” said Edford.

Edford led efforts to train more officers in the use of the tool so that all Boulder County agencies can use it.

“He was just amazing in his courage and leadership,” Kelly said of Edford. “If all of our agencies use this tool, we can incorporate it into the bond arguments. I hope that would be another tool to present to our judges.

Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty said it was important to assess domestic violence cases given the risk of these defendants reoffending.

“It’s about us in the criminal justice system doing a better job of identifying where the greatest risk lies and we have a better response,” Dougherty said.

Edford said domestic violence calls are not only dangerous for victims, but also for offenders and officers. Edford’s work was honored at a ceremony for Boulder County Domestic Violence Advocates named after Beth Haynes, a Boulder police officer killed while responding to a domestic violence call.

“These are volatile types of crimes and types of volatile situations,” Edford said. “It is fatal for the police who enter the scene and fatal for the victims and sometimes the attackers. “

With that in mind, Edford said he has had discussions with the Colorado District Attorney’s Council about disseminating this assessment tool not only in Boulder County, but statewide.

“It would be the goal, whether it’s this tool or another, to have some of these tools and some of these issues pushed to the ground, pushed to the officers so that they can help save lives,” he said. Edford said.


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