The Metropolitan Police Department display the Southern Nevada Domestic Violence Memorial on Oct. 3 to raise awareness of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The memorial displays the names of men, women and children who have died by domestic violence in Clark County.
Consistently over the years, Nevada has remained in the top spots for the number of women killed by men.
Domestic violence was skyrocketing leaving many advocates in both public and private sector ready to embrace new tactics in fighting this issue. It appears to be working.
The Violence Policy Center said last month that Nevada had fallen from first - that is worst - in the nation to 16th in the number of women killed by men.
“For the last five or six years, we have been in the top five spots,” said Lisa Lynn Chapman, the director of community relations for Safe Nest. “Now we are 16. It’s been consistent for two years in a row.”
Advocates are trying to raise awareness of the issue by promoting October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Through better collaboration between agencies and implementation of new programs, advocates have seen some changes in the city. Part of Nevada’s progress comes from the moment the Metropolitan Police Department arrives at the scene to ask people questions about the abuser.
Does the abuser have weapons?
Has he ever threatened to kill you?
“The officer points out to us what might not be obvious to the victims,” said Elynne Greene, the supervisor of victims services at Metro.
What the officer knows is based on past homicides. Answering “yes” to these automatically puts a person in a high-risk situation. There are other questions on the list.
Does the abuser harm your pets?
Is it a blended family?
Has the abuser recently been unemployed?
Answering “yes” to three or more of the 11 questions puts people in a high-risk situation.
“These questions by themselves don’t mean there is abuse,” Green said. “Just because you have step children doesn’t mean there is abuse. Just because you are unemployed doesn’t mean there is abuse.”
But a combination of these could potentially be lethal. And the 11 questions not only could save a person life, they arguably already have. This is part of Metro’s lethality assessment program to determine the risk level of a person’s situation.
In 2009, before the program went department wide, Chapman said they had more than 50 domestic violence related homicides In Clark County .
In 2010 that number dropped to 39, followed by 30 in 2011 and finally 17 in 2012.
“I attribute it to solid partnership we have between Metro and the lethality assessment program,” Chapman said.
This assessment isn’t a new concept. About 20 years ago, Greene said Maryland began to research some of the overlapping factors in domestic violence cases.
“They started to dissect some of the typical cases,” Greene said.
Out of that, police in smaller cities in Maryland would start asking questions to assess risk factors for people to stay where they were. In trying to address some of the issues with domestic violence in Clark County, Greene said Metro began using this method at one of the substation as a pilot for this program several years ago.
“Then the program went department wide,” she added.
But at 2 a.m., when Metro is questioning a person about their alleged abuser, tiredness, embarrassment and a myriad of other emotions can take toll. A person might not grasp just what is being told to them.
“So my unit calls to check up on the person 24 hours later,” Greene said.
She continues to offer the person support and ways out, whether it is access to shelter or information on personal protection orders. It could even be giving a person a 911 cell phone - a used cell phone collected to give domestic violence survivors in case they need to call 911.
“That has saved lives,” Greene said. “We had one guy who knew his girlfriend didn’t have a cell phone. He cut the telephone lines at her place and tried to break in, not knowing she had this. It saved her life. We are always collecting used phones for this.”
This has all been just one step of the effort to bring down Nevada’s domestic violence homicide numbers and save lives. Greene said in the past few years there has been better collaboration between Metro, Safe Nest and various other agencies and nonprofits to make sure needs are addressed at all levels.
“The best thing is we’re not asking Metro to do more and they are not asking us to do more,” Chapman said. “It is just bringing us together in a proactive way to become a very powerful tool to allow people to get access to services.”
Nevada continues to make improvements in aiding survivors.
In the 2013 legislative session, Assembly Bill 284 was passed, which allows people involved in domestic violence to break their lease agreements.
“When the perpetrator knows where to find the victim, it increases the lethality of the situation,” Chapman said.
Often times fear of financial backlash from breaking a lease agreement might keep someone stuck where they are living and in harms way. Greene fears this might be a double-edged sword.
While it is important to alleviate survivors from the burden of being blacklisted because they broke lease agreements, Greene thinks there might be adverse effects.
“My fear is that landlords won’t rent to them in the future out of the fear they would have to break the lease again,” she said.
But the bill is still progress. There are an average of 26,000 calls for domestic violence in Clark County each year, so there is still work to be done.
“We need to continue to strengthen collaboration between courts, judges, the nonprofit sector and law enforcement,” Greene said. “We are proud of our accomplishments, but the dialogue must continue.”
The police themselves are not immune to domestic violence, either. Two of the names on the latest plaque, Kathryn and Maximilian, were killed by Metro Lt. Hans Walters, the husband and father, on Jan. 21 in their home in Boulder City, before he took his own life. CL