Megan Stuke said she’s usually frustrated, exhausted and probably a little angry when Lawrence city commissioners hear from her — but on Tuesday night, she was “simply hopeful and really happy about the progress that we’ve made.”
The Willow Domestic Violence Center, where Stuke serves as executive director, is collaborating with the Lawrence Police Department to work toward better outcomes for survivors of domestic violence.
Stuke said that since she spoke to the commission almost three years ago, the Willow and local law enforcement have made significant steps forward, including placing victim coordinators in the police department and the sheriff’s office.
“DV affects every person, child, classroom and neighborhood, and if you know me, you know that I love grassroots and community efforts — but what I love even more is policy and systems that work to undo the harm that policy and systems have done before,” Stuke said. “So I think this represents that significant shift.”
Commissioners also heard from Tassia Records, victim services coordinator with LPD, and Officer Mark Hammond.
Records said LPD would like to establish a specially trained domestic violence investigator position.
“Through case management and review of our local DV reported stats, along with the most recent DV-related homicide here in Lawrence, we discovered a need and are thus advocating for a domestic violence response team,” Records said.
“This team will be composed of the victim services coordinator and the newly assigned sworn investigator working together to improve investigative outcomes and reinforce victim support systems. By working together in the respective roles, investigator and advocate can provide better communication with victims in stronger cases overall, while helping victims heal emotionally and regain their sense of safety.”
One component LPD will implement is a lethality assessment, Hammond said.
That will involve “implementing three risk questions which would help the responding officer at the scene document the scope, severity and pattern of abuse reported at the time of the initial response,” Hammond said.
“This would help build an accurate picture of the nature of the risk and danger involved to the victim. Subsequently, the domestic violence investigator will carry out a lethality assessment which would be expanded from those initial three questions.”lethatlity-assessment
That information will also be forwarded to prosecutors for review, Hammond said.
Hammond and Records also shared some data and statistics the department has collected, noting some changes in the methods LPD is using that will change the way numbers appear.
But Stuke said data about domestic violence is complicated. A reduction in the number of DV calls to law enforcement could mean that those crimes are being effectively prosecuted and victims are protected — but it could also mean that victims feel abandoned in the system, exhausted by it or even harmed further by it, she said.
“Just relying on data about calls and reports of DV doesn’t really give us a good picture of the efficacy of all of our systems,” Stuke said. “It is the Willow’s position that the metric for success is the output. What resources, training, expertise, trauma-informed care are we growing and improving? What connections are we intentionally making with the community that make them feel safe and supported?”
The Willow plans to apply to Praxis International to become a “Blueprint for Safety” community, Stuke said.
The program is a “an innovative approach in criminal justice intervention to protect victims of battering and end intimate partner violence. It is a comprehensive response to domestic violence crimes, based on thirty years of community practice and research,” according to its website.
More specifically, the Blueprint improves how dispatch, law enforcement, prosecutors and courts share information; ensures risk is properly assessed at every step; pays attention to reducing unintended negative impacts on survivors and communities and more, according to the website.
The center will also soon apply for a grant in hopes of hiring another systems advocate to help coordinate the work.
“So we really want to be a part of that solution, and we’re going to find the money outside of the community, hopefully, to help coordinate all of that and relieve some of the burden” on the police department and sheriff’s office, Stuke said.
“There’s been a lot of hard work going into this,” Police Chief Rich Lockhart told commissioners. “We’re excited to announce it and let you guys know that’s where we’re heading. The lethality assessment is a really big part of that, it’s something that’s very important; it’s something we haven’t done here. So I’m really excited to get that started.”
Note: This post has been updated to correct a misspelled name.
Get help in Lawrence
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
- Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
- Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
- National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.
File for an order of protection
In Kansas, victim-survivors of stalking and abuse can file for court orders of protection from abuse or stalking online. Visit kspop.org and follow the instructions on the website. The service is available for any county in Kansas.
Learn the warning signs
Read about warning signs of domestic violence and emotional abuse and learn how you can help at this link.
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.