Police officers, domestic violence advocates and other community members have come together in an effort to protect survivors and prevent the escalations in family violence that could get them killed.
The Douglas County Task Force on Family Violence began with a meeting organized by Battered Persons’ Advocacy Director Melanie Prummer in 2017. Several community members had suggested that county organizations needed to work together to respond to the problem.
Prummer was thrilled when 21 people turned up to the first meeting. That initial interest was followed up with a technical assistance grant from the Ford Family Foundation to do some strategic planning this year.
Today, the task force joins representatives from numerous local agencies, including all five city police departments in the county, judges, the district attorney’s office, people who work with victims of child abuse, the Department of Human Services, Umpqua Community College and faith-based abuse recovery programs, among others.
Together, the agencies developed a mission. They would partner to prevent family violence, enhance abuse survivors’ safety and hold batterers accountable.
Right off the bat, the task force identified preventing homicide as a top concern, Prummer said.
Ultimately, the goal is for police officers to use a lethality assessment tool — a questionnaire developed in Maryland that helps identify how much danger is faced by domestic violence victims. Putting it in the hands of officers responding to domestic violence calls could make it a powerful tool to prevent homicides, Prummer said.
If the lethality assessment shows the survivor is at high risk, the officer and the abuse survivor would call an advocate together. People who have just suffered trauma may be less likely to make the call on their own, so the change could increase the chances they get help before the situation escalates, Prummer said.
Roseburg Police Sgt. Jeff Eichenbusch said domestic violence is a big problem, not just in this community but in others as well.
“It’s probably one of the bigger problems that we deal with,” he said.
Eichenbusch said the lethality assessment is based on scientific evidence that asking a series of questions can help police figure out the level of danger the survivors of domestic violence might face in the future.
“What it does is it gives us the ability to put these survivors in contact with resources more quickly so they can hopefully get better intervention to prevent any further abuse or potential for worse abuse down the road,” he said.
Eichenbusch is glad so many agencies are involved in the task force.
“What’s nice is that we’ve got a lot of buy in from a lot of agencies in our area, not just the Roseburg Police Department. A lot of the local agencies are willing to try this out and see if it will help provide better services to our domestic abuse survivors,” he said.
Sutherlin Police Capt. Kurt Sorenson said Battered Persons’ Advocacy deserves a lot of credit for reaching out to build relationships with the police.
He said police deal more with the criminal end of things and he hates having to tell victims there’s not much he can do for them.
“If I can refer them to somebody who can help them, that’s big for us,” he said.
He said police officers often have a feeling when responding to domestic violence calls that things are going to get worse, and that’s when a lethality assessment would be valuable.
“When you’ve been to those scenes enough you just know that the way this is going is not good, the way this relationship is progressing, something really bad is going to happen. Now it’s so nice to be able to have the lethality assessment process that someone else is going to get involved. Someone else is going to be able to help survivors out down the road in the future, so that eventually they’re helped to be put into a safer situation,” he said.
“The lethality assessment program is awesome and I think it’s about time that we finally started doing it here in Douglas County,” he said.
It will take a little time to develop the protocols and initiate training, but law enforcement and other task force members hope the program will be in place soon.
In the meantime, Prummer said the interaction between the organizations is one of the most valuable things to have come out of the task force so far.
“I have felt great optimism for all of these agencies coming together and having their common goal and open conversations. I’m optimistic,” Prummer said.
In the task force’s first year, law enforcement made 80% more referrals to BPA than it had before. Last year, BPA saw another 50% increase in those referrals, Prummer said.
She also said BPA has been awarded a grant to hire an advocate who will act as a liaison with law enforcement. This will allow police to make those referrals with someone they know.
“And that advocate understands the role of law enforcement and what their response is and how we can support one another to ultimately provide the best response to survivors,” Prummer said.