Thanks to a $650,000 federal grant, Pitt County and UNC School of Social Work researchers will continue to partner over the next two years on solutions to reduce domestic violence homicides.
The eastern North Carolina county was recently selected among four sites in the country to share $2.6 million to put into place promising programs aimed at quickly identifying women who are in potentially fatal abusive relationships or in households of risk and connecting them to services before its too late. Rebecca Macy, the School of Social Work’s L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Chair for Strengthening Families, serves as a local evaluator and consultant for the project.
The latest grant enables the Pitt County Sheriff’s Department, as lead agency, and partners, including the Greenville Police Department and the county’s Center for Family Violence Prevention, to move into the second phase of the national initiative, which began last year. At that time, the eastern North Carolina county was one of 12 jurisdictions awarded a $200,000 federal grant to investigate models successful at preventing domestic violence.
Pitt has been especially interested in Maryland’s “Lethality Assessment Program,” and the county’s share of this latest funding now gives project officials the resources needed to test it, Macy said. The other selected sites—Cuyahoga County in Ohio; Contra Costa County in California and the Borough of Brooklyn in New York— will also test anti-violence initiatives.
“We have to figure out if these approaches really work because right now, there really is no good evidence out there about what does,” Macy said.
However, what researchers do know, she noted, is that even though the homicide rate in the United States has gone down, there is one statistic that has remained the same: 70 percent of women who are murdered are murdered by an intimate partner.
“It’s an intractable problem that we need to figure out,” Macy said. “How do we ensure that we’re being as effective as we possibly can at the law enforcement intervention level, and that in the end, we’re preventing some of these domestic violence homicides?”
For the Pitt County project, the primary goal over the next year is to train first responders, especially police officers and sheriff’s deputies who generally answer domestic violence calls, to recognize high-risk environments for domestic violence and to screen victims and quickly connect them to services. The Lethality Assessment Program relies on a one-page questionnaire to help officers identify the level of risk for lethal behavior.
“So they are looking for things such as unemployment, having weapons in the home, having children in the home who are not the biological children of the new partner, and for substance abuse,” Macy explained. “All of these are indicators or risk factors that could lead to someone in the home being harmed.”
Depending on the number of “yes” answers the officers receive, they could then discuss their concerns with victims and the potential risks of staying in their homes and suggest that they contact a domestic violence shelter or a crisis line and follow up with services, Macy added.
“The idea is to connect them to services before the situation escalates,” she said.
Over the next two years, the county will also continue to collect and examine data on domestic violence cases with the hope of better understanding victims and how agencies can work together better to offer needed services, Macy said.
“We have such limited resources in criminal justice and domestic violence services, so we have to do what works,” Macy said. “What’s really novel and important about this and the opportunity for UNC, and Pitt County and North Carolina is that we get to be part of the rigorous testing of these models to actually see if they make a difference. Is this something that the community will invest in to help keep women, and most of the time it is women and their kids, alive?”