Grant Helps Merryman House, Police Protect Victims
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center has received a grant that has allowed them to train with Paducah Police and McCracken County Sheriff's Department to screen domestic violence cases for statistical possibility of fatal crimes.
The grant through the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence provides training and technical assistance necessary to administer and implement the Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP). The LAP is a cutting-edge approach to combating domestic violence through a comprehensive response of law enforcement and service providers like the Merryman House.
“What we know about domestic violence tells us that when a victim reaches out for help, her risk of serious harm or even death increases. We are very fortunate to have the chance to join hands local law enforcement in a way we have never been able to before,” said Mary Foley, Executive Director of the Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center.
She said after consulting with law enforcement, her organization submitted the non-profit paperwork for the grant during the winter. Foley said Merryman House was one of only a few chosen to receive the money, and that is something for our area to be proud of.
Foley said this provides a more seamless way for them to cooperate with Paducah Police and McCracken County Sheriff's Department, as they all strive to protect and serve the community. Historically, the agencies have worked well together, but sometimes there are confidentiality practices that have hindered their partnership. This grant allows those them to communicate even better.
"It allows us to communicate in a much different way, for the common goal of ensuring the best service possible, and safety and education for people who reach out to law enforcement," Foley said.
Foley said the three agencies have been training together, and here's how it will work:
When responding to domestic violence calls, law enforcement officers will screen victims for their "risk of lethality" using a standard, research-based set of questions. Victims who are flagged as a high risk get immediate additional support by the responding officer, who can contact the Merryman House so the victim can use their services.
If a victim doesn't want to talk with a Merryman House Crisis Counselor, the officer can work as the counselor's liaison to make sure that safety plans are put into place to protect the victim. The officer can be a proxy, asking questions like,"Do you have a plan to get to a safe place if you're in immediate danger?" or "What will happen if the aggressor returns home?"
Foley said many times the victim is in a cycle of fear and/or denial that is difficult to escape, even when her organization is counseling them. But it might be different when law enforcement is on the scene.
Foley said, "When they hear that person in a position of authority saying, 'Look, you're at high risk for being killed, and this is very serious. Will you please contact the Merryman House and we're going to be here to support you to do that,' it just opens a door that just we've never had opened, to allow a person to walk through."
McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden said, “We see the effects of domestic violence almost on a daily basis in one form or another. We hope that this program will enable us to make sure that no victim of domestic violence falls through the cracks and will be offered the help or assistance that they may need.”
“The Paducah Police Department has been tracking domestic violence for over three years,” says Paducah Police Chief James Berry. “It is a top priority in our community, and we believe that the LAP program will be a tremendous asset in reducing victimization relevant to domestic and family violence.”
Foley said the grant covered the cost of training, and requires Merryman House to send data back to the Maryland Network through September. But now that these three agencies are trained, they can expand it as much as it is needed in the Purchase Area.
Foley used this example, "Once you are trained in the LAP protocol, the Sheriff's Department and McCracken County officers could partner with us to train another neighboring county."
The program launches May 16.
The Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center provides free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence and their children. A hotline worker can be reached 24-hours per day at 1-800-585-2686.