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New Project Aims to Prevent Domestic Violence Deaths in Utah

Courtesy Woods Cross PD
Woods Cross Police Chief Greg Butler applied for a grant in 2013 to have his department trained in the Lethality Assessment Protocol, now being adopted in more communities across Utah.

Utah’s rate of homicide related to domestic violence is higher than the national average, but a pilot project aims to change that. Law enforcement and victim services professionals are receiving training this week in a new method to prevent more deaths.

Woods Cross Police Chief Greg Butler says every law enforcement officer has those homes that they visit over again, because they have no way to intervene. But he has a story where things turned out differently.

“The exhusband… he went and purchased a handgun, he had a lot of ammunition, and he went to find her to have one last family meeting, and when he went to the house she wasn’t there. The kids weren’t there,” Butler says.  

The reason they weren’t there is because the Woods Cross Police Department had just been trained in a new tool called the Lethality Assessment Protocol. When they became aware of the potential threat, they asked the woman questions to assess risk. In the process, Butler says, they were able to put her in touch with a shelter and services before a potential lethal incident could occur.

“It ended up in a standoff with us where ultimately he shot and killed himself,” he says. “But our belief was that he probably intended to go and take the lives of her, the three kids and then himself.”

Butler credits the new lethality assessment for saving the lives of the woman and her children, and he says he’s seeing a reduction in domestic violence homicides within Woods Cross. Now more Utah communities are being trained in this approach. Jenn Oxborrow is Executive Director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

“We had several law enforcement agencies and victim service provides coming forward asking desperate for help because we’ve has so many families lose their lives to domestic violence homicide, and they wanted to be able to do more,” Oxborrow says. She says they joined their efforts as a group, asked for funding from the state legislature. They were awarded almost 700,000 dollars to help train about 500 individuals in communities around the state as a pilot project.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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