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Gallatin County law enforcement to pilot domestic-violence questionnaires

Risk assessments save lives, help identify survivors in potential danger

Gallatin County law enforcement will soon be asking seven simple questions of survivors on every domestic violence call they take – a pilot project that advocates say will not only save lives, but that will also be the first of a wave of such questionnaires being implemented across Montana police departments and court systems.

The questionnaires, known as risk assessments:

- provide a uniform way for patrol officers, prosecutors, shelter coordinators, and victim advocates to identify survivors in the highest level of danger (ie does their abuser have access to firearms, is there a history of strangulation)

- can inform judges as they set bail and release conditions for abusers

- help survivors recognize when they might be in danger

The pilot program is slated to start following an Arizona State University (ASU) training in Bozeman for local law enforcement, court personnel, and advocates on Oct. 19-20. Led by ASU’s law-enforcement director Greg Giangobbe and ASU’s Family Violence Center director Neil Websdale, the training focuses on Dr. Websdale’s widely used method of assessing risk. More information about this method is available here.

Bozeman will be piloting the questionnaires right after the training; Gallatin County will do as well. Kalispell, Helena, and Missoula are to follow in the coming year.

“The Sheriff’s Office is excited to attend the lethality assessment training. We believe implementing these procedures will make victims of domestic violence safer, it will connect them to needed services and it will keep dangerous people from inflicting future harm. We recognize the importance of consistency across all agencies and their response to these calls and this training will continue to improve upon that consistency,” Gallatin County Sheriff Dan Springer said.

Gallatin County Attorney Audrey Cromwell is glad the County is using evidence-based criminal justice tools to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable community members.

“This tool will help us effectively and efficiently address domestic violence calls and provide immediate support for victims. I’m thankful that our law enforcement partners across the County have come together to approve the use of a uniform tool to address family violence and keep victims safe and supported,” Cromwell said.

Haven Director Erica Aytes Coyle also lauded the questionnaires.

“At Haven, we’ve always believed that this community has the power to create change. These new risk assessments show this to be true: Law enforcement, advocates, courts, and victim services are all collaborating to save lives, and to help domestic violence survivors recognize danger and connect with support. As more places in Montana adopt these assessments, we’re hoping to see a statewide transformation in terms of saving lives and supporting survivors,” Coyle said.