Lethality Assessment Training - Great News for York County!

More York County police to get lethality assessment training

After Monday, officers from at least 10 police departments in York County will be trained to use a lethality assessment

By Brandie Kessler and Ed Mahon

Daily Record/Sunday News

 

Southern Regional Police Chief Jim Boddington said domestic violence situations can be like fires.

"They start small and get big," he said.

Because of that, domestic violence calls can be among the most dangerous for police. Boddington hopes a new screening tool will help officers better identify when something that seems small could turn worse, and help them do something about it.

Two supervisors from his department are set to get training Monday in how to use the screening tool, known as a lethality assessment. It's aimed at identifying alleged victims of domestic violence who are at the highest risk of being killed or seriously injured.

Southern Regional is among five departments scheduled to be trained to use the assessment, bringing the total to at least 10 York County police departments that use it. There are more than 20 police departments countywide.

The move comes as York County has seen a spike in domestic violence-related fatalities this year, including four murder-suicides that left 10 people dead. Rick Azzaro, chief services officer for YWCA York, said there are several other deaths that were domestic-violence related, including that of 36-year-old Jennifer Liszewski, a New Freedom woman who police say shot her 11-year-old son and herself in April. Her son survived, but she later died at York Hospital.

Including those cases, York County has hit a record-high number of domestic violence-related deaths this year, Azzaro said.

York County had seven domestic violence-related fatalities in 2014, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

A prevention tool

As part of the 11-question lethality assessment, alleged victims of domestic violence who answer yes to a particular number of questions on the assessment "screen in," or become eligible for the police officer to call someone who is trained to help. For example, ACCESS-York can provide victims' services, such as counseling, emergency housing, and help with requesting a Protection From Abuse order.

"We want to try to prevent things from escalating," Boddington said.

York Area Regional Police Department will host Monday's training session for six police departments, five of which will begin using the assessment for the first time. One, Penn Township, will attend for a refresher course on the assessment.

Northern York County Regional, Carroll Township, Springettsbury Township and DLA Distribution police departments are also scheduled to participate in the training.

The two supervisors from Southern Regional who get the training will then train others in the department. Boddington said police officers are used to hearing about new programs.

"This one apparently has a track record of being effective," he said. "...If something works, word spreads."

The Lethality Assessment Program was created in 2005 by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

York Area Regional Police Chief Tom Gross said his department was among the first in Pennsylvania to use the assessment as part of a pilot program. The department started using it in October 2012.

"It allows officers to use a very well-researched tool that I think makes sense to the officers," Gross said. "We saw, in the first year that we did it, that we had a huge number, bigger than we expected, who screened in."

Gross said responding to domestic violence calls is nothing new, but using the assessment changes the way police are able to help. It used to be that police officers handed alleged victims of domestic violence a packet of papers with information about services. Now, if someone screens in, the officer makes the call for them and puts them on the phone with victims' services then and there.

Gross said the training for police departments benefits the entire community.

"The benefit is to a potential victim," Gross said. "There's no guarantee for anyone that they're not going to find themselves in a dangerous situation" or that someone they know won't find themselves in a dangerous situation and be in need of help.

Help in a difficult situation

Although the Lethality Assessment Program is designed to put alleged victims of domestic violence in touch with services, District Attorney Tom Kearney, who sits on a county domestic violence task force, said the assessment also helps law enforcement.

Getting a victim to services could prevent future incidents for which police would otherwise be called, he said.

Kearney said he is very concerned about the increased number of domestic violence-related deaths in York County this year. He doesn't know what's bringing them about, he said, but the assessment could help get people out of difficult situations and get them connected with someone who can help.

Hanover Borough Police Chief Dwayne L. Smith said his department started using the assessment in July 2013.

"Lethality doesn't respect borders," Smith said. "And York County was one of those counties where lethality was very high. We wanted to do what we could to be part of the solution of reducing fatality."

Gross noted the record number of domestic violence-related fatalities in York County this year.

He said the assessment "is not a guarantee, but it has worked to increase the number of people we've identified as being in danger, and the number of people who were put in touch with victims' services went up."

The assessment is a tool he thinks every police department should use.

"If you have a set of handcuffs and a Taser, you should have a lethality assessment," Gross

Murder Victim's daughter spreads hope

By : Liz Evans Scolforo, York Dispatch

August 17, 2015

The final violent act of a domestic abuser Alecia Armold never even met devastated her family. But in picking up the pieces, Armold has found what she suspects is her true calling:

Spreading hope.

"I really think this is what I was meant to do with my life," said Armold, daughter of murder victim Barb Schrum. "I feel very strongly this is the path my life is supposed to take."

Schrum, 55, owned and ran Shoppe American Made in Dover.

On May 29, Schrum accompanied friend Laurie Kuykendall Kepner to the Wellsville-area home of Kuykendall's ex-husband to help the woman retrieve a few of her belongings. Kuykendall had tried to get a law-enforcement officer to go with her but was told that state police, sheriff's deputies and constables won't do escorts, called "standbys," unless there is a protection-from-abuse order in place, her family members have said.

Martin Kepner fatally shot Schrum in the head and stabbed her in the neck as she sat in the passenger seat of a car, belted in and waiting for Kuykendall to return to the vehicle, officials have said. Kuykendall, 53, apparently tried to run but was fatally shot in the head by her ex-husband, who then committed suicide, according to officials.

Fighting for change: Armold started agitating for change soon afterward. She posted a petition at change.org to make using a Maryland-based lethality assessment program mandatory for all Pennsylvania police departments. It so far has more than 1,600 signatures.

The program is already in use by about a half-dozen police departments in York County. It provides officers with 11 questions to ask a suspected domestic-violence victim, which help gauge whether the person is at risk of being killed by an intimate partner.

Armold also met with a number of York County's elected officials in both the state House and Senate, including state Sen. Pat Vance, R-York/Cumberland, who visited Schrum at Shoppe American Made to make a video feature about the store just hours before Schrum was murdered.

Vance dedicated the July edition of The Vance Report to Schrum and has tasked her staff with researching PFA statistics in York County to see how they compare to statistics in other counties.

The Hope Shoppe: Now Armold, 31, of Mechanicsburg, has turned her efforts to a longer-term goal that she hopes will give local domestic-violence victims the last bit of help they need to leave their abusers.

She is starting a nonprofit organization called The Hope Shoppe, a nod to the name of her mother's store.

"There are so many people who have offered to help me that I think it will be very easy to get this up and running," she said. "Sadly, there's probably always going to be a need."

The Hope Shoppe will hold fundraisers "for a specific person in a specific situation who is reaching out for help," according to Armold.

A bowling fundraiser is one of her ideas for raising money, she said, because Schrum loved to bowl.

Immediate aid: Armold said she suspects there are victims who would leave their abusers if they had a monetary cushion.

"A couple months' rent — maybe that's the thing that makes them leave," she said. "We'll be giving a person what they need immediately to get out of an abusive situation."

Armold said she will partner with established domestic-violence assistance centers such as Access-York and Safe Home in Hanover to identify victims in need. Since her mother's death, Armold has been in contact with both Rick Azzaro, chief services officer for Access-York, and Anne Acker, director of Safe Home.

Victims of domestic abuse won't necessarily need to have gone through either organization to find help at The Hope Shoppe, according to Armold, although both agencies offer a host of critical services for clients. She said people will be able to reach out directly to her nonprofit through its Facebook page.

'Something powerful': Acker called The Hope Shoppe a great idea.

"When victims learn that the help they've received has come from somebody in the community ... there's something powerful about that," Acker said. "They think, 'Somebody cares enough about me to help me.'"

And help that comes from someone who lost a loved one to domestic violence — like Armold — can be even more meaningful, the Safe Home director said.

"This young woman is so smart. She's making healing her priority, and this is how she's doing it," Acker said. "It's very healing to help others in the same situation. ... You've been there. You've walked that path."

No more waiting: Armold said she's had The Hope Shoppe plan in her head for some time and initially considered it a future goal.

"Then I realized that the longer I wait, the less I'm able to help people," she said. "Everybody has been so supportive and I thought, 'I just need to do it now and it will fall in place like everything else has.'"

Armold said she's made numerous connections with elected officials, the media and groups such as Access-York and Safe Home in the wake of her mother's murder.

"It all seemed to come together," she said. "I'm constantly surrounded by support."

How to help: Armold plans to have The Hope Shoppe up and running by mid-September, in time to hold a fundraiser in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

On Aug. 10, she started a fundraising page at gofundme.com to get together seed money, she said.

Armold is asking for $1,200 and has so far raised $700. To donate, or for more information, visit gofundme.com/hopeshoppe or The Hope Shoppe's Facebook page.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.