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Cuyahoga County works to prevent deaths in domestic dispute cases with a new tool to assess risk

Posted: 10:36 AM, Oct 01, 2018
Updated: 2018-10-01 10:39:14-04

A domestic dispute that ends deadly is the worst-case scenario for any family, first responder, and community in general, and it happens all too often. Leaders in Cuyahoga County are working to change that with a new risk-assessment tool called the Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement, or DA-LE.

It’s for first responders on the scene of a domestic dispute when they gather information. It’s a way to re-word or ask different questions that can identify victims at the greatest risk of homicide and severe assault.

First and Fifth Cleveland Police Districts are already using it. Molly Kaplan with the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center, says DA-LE is a small change in questions, that can make a big difference. Before DA-LE, officers would ask about the incident that led them to the home in the first place, kind of like a snapshot of the relationship. Kaplan says now, though, police ask about the history of the relationship to give them better context of the situation. 

With more information, it is easier to assess if the victim is at a higher risk of a death in the hands of their partner.

“I think that by providing that historic information, it's just, it makes more awareness for the system. It says ‘Ok this case, maybe there wasn't strangulation in this incident, but there was strangulation in the past in this relationship,’ so even though this incident there wasn't we know that's happening and that this is a dangerous case,” said Kaplan.

Strangulation is one of the big risk factors that DA-LE assesses. Odds for homicide increase 750% for victims who have been previously strangled, compared to victims who have never been strangled.

"Previously, you get a snapshot, you get one police report of one incident on one night and so what this risk assessment tool does is it helps kind of paint the picture of this incident in the context of the relationship,” said Kaplan.

Once police know that a relationship is high risk, that information is used throughout the rest of the criminal justice system. For example, prosecutors can ask for a higher bond or the information can help parole and probation, too.

The goal is to eventually have some type of risk-assessment in all of Cuyahoga County. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Those needing help can also call or message the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Trained advocates are available at any time to answer questions or find resources 1−800−799−7233.