In 2015, 97 Virginians lost their lives at the hands of a family member or intimate partner. This is a 13 percent decrease from 2014, but it still accounts for 25 percent of all homicides in Virginia in 2015.
Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced a new partnership with Verizon Wireless to further reduce domestic homicides, support survivors of domestic violence, and implement the life-saving program called “Lethality Assessment Protocol” (LAP) in more communities around Virginia. Through its HopeLine program, Verizon Wireless is loaning Virginia law enforcement agencies 500 donated mobile phones that law enforcement and survivors will use to contact 24-hour-a-day community resources that can help a survivor and any vulnerable children leave a situation of domestic violence or abuse before the situation escalates or even turns fatal.
“Domestic abuse is a dangerous, often violent expression of power and control that can leave scars-both seen and unseen-that can last a lifetime,” said Attorney General Herring. “Domestic homicide is preventable when our communities have the tools and resources they need. We can save lives and break the cycle of violence here in the Commonwealth when we utilize the tools and strategies that we know work, like Lethality Assessment Protocol. That’s why my team and I are working every single day to get these tools in the hands of law enforcement and advocates throughout the state. This partnership with Verizon Wireless is going to allow even more communities to successfully intervene in a dangerous situation and get victims the support and resources they need to protect themselves and their children. There’s still work in front of us, and we’re not going to let up because lives depend on it.”
Donated phones through the HopeLine program will allow more Virginia localities to implement LAP, an innovative, evidence-based approach to domestic homicide prevention that helps first responders identify and properly handle domestic violence situations that may become fatal. First responders are trained to use a standardized set of eleven questions, such as “Has he/she ever threatened to kill you or your children,” or “Does he/she have a gun or can he/she get one easily” that can predict when a victim is at imminent risk of further harm. If the victim is at risk of further harm, officers immediately connect the victim to a 24-hour domestic violence service provider in their community who can help them leave the potentially dangerous situation and get them the assistance they need.
“When implemented right, LAP not only can make a difference in the lives of direct people served, but transform an entire community’s response to domestic violence,” said Kristine Hall, Policy Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
In order to connect a victim with community resources, an officer needs access to a mobile phone, and since many departments do not issue officers phones and some even ban the use of personal phones while on duty, the HopeLine phones will meet this need and eliminate that barrier to successful implementation. Many victims are also hesitant to call for help from their own phones out of fear their abuser may find out and retaliate.
“Verizon has had a longstanding commitment to utilizing our technology to support those impacted by domestic violence, as we understand that wireless phones can serve as a lifeline for survivors,” said Roger Tang, president – South East Market for Verizon Wireless. “We applaud Attorney General Herring and the many community organizations and law enforcement agencies involved in implementing this important program.”
Implementation and expansion of Lethality Assessment Protocol has been a priority for Attorney General Herring since his service in the State Senate where he introduced legislation to require Lethality Assessment training of Virginia law enforcement. As attorney general, he hired a full-time staff member to train local agencies on Lethality Protocol Implementation, and in October 2015, his Office trained 125 representatives from 45 law enforcement and community services agencies in 17 localities during a three-day conference in Charlottesville.
Additional local and regional trainings are currently being planned for this year. Interested law enforcement or community agencies should contact Lisa G. Furr, GEAP Program and Lethality Assessment Initiative Coordinator, at (804) 823-6336 or [email protected]. The next scheduled training is later this month for the Virginia Beach Police Department.
In March, Attorney General Herring used a combination of grant and asset forfeiture funds to purchase a limited number of “pre-paid” phones so that eleven Virginia localities could immediately implement LAP. HopeLine phones will be distributed to these localities first to replace the pre-paid phones with a more lasting solution, and additional phones will be distributed to local law enforcement agencies as they complete LAP training provided by the OAG.
Domestic violence homicides are preventable, but the statistics in Virginia remain alarming. Since 1999, a total of 2,278 people in Virginia have lost their lives to domestic and dating violence.
Data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Virginia State Police shows:
- 97 Virginians lost their lives to domestic homicide in 2015
- Domestic homicides accounted for 25 percent of all homicides in 2015
- African-Americans died at roughly three times the rate of whites from domestic violence homicide
- More than half of domestic homicides are committed with a firearm
- There were 20,872 arrests for misdemeanor assault and battery against family or household member in 2014
- There were 1,153 arrests for felony assault and battery against family or household member in 2014.