Monthly Archives: May 2011

With 11 Questions, Officers Assess Homicide Risk

David M. Sargent of the Maryland
Network Against Domestic Violence has taught thousands of law enforcement officers how to implement the Lethality
Assessment Program, which uses a short survey to assess victims’ risk of being killed and a simple protocol
to encourage them to get help.

Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. This is New Thinking, our podcast series
where we interview justice professionals who are addressing some of the most challenging problems society confronts.

Today I’m talking with David Sargent about domestic violence. David served 21 years with
the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., and he now works with the Maryland Network Against Domestic

Thanks for taking a few minutes to chat.

You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here.

WOLF: David’s
in our office today helping train a group of visitors that we’re hosting from Minnesota. The focus of your training
is on the process of the lethality assessment program, which is a screening tool that police use to identify high-risk
domestic violence victims. And then there’s a process around what you do with that information. So that’s
what I wanted to ask you about.

Who is a high-risk domestic violence victim, and how does the
lethality assessment program fit in?

SARGENT: Well when we say high-risk,
what we’re saying is that this victim is at the greatest risk of being killed.

The screening
process that we use is evidence-based, mostly on the work of Dr. Jacqueline Campbell from Johns Hopkins University,
who has done danger and lethality assessment work over the past more than 25 years. And we have used that information
with Dr. Campbell’s assistance to be able to take information that has been available on a clinician’s
level, since before 1981, to be able to take that information and to bring it to the level of the field practitioner
so that the field practitioner can make the same research-based assessment identification of victims who are at the
greatest risk of being killed.

With that information, what we do is we try to get victims into
domestic violence services. We use a very proactive approach to be able to accomplish that. For example, with police
officers, the officer uses the screen on the scene of a domestic violence call.

Before you go on, the police officer is called to a scene, and there has been an allegation of domestic violence,
and then the screen is a series of questions?

SARGENT: Essentially
after the investigation is completed, the officer goes through a process where he tells the victim that he would
like to ask her some questions to get a better idea of her situation.

He proceeds to ask the
11 questions that are a part of the field screening process. If a victim has answered yes to enough of these questions,
which an officer immediately is able to determine, the officer tells the victim that she’s in danger, that in
situations like this people have been killed.

And what he or she—the officer—would like to do
is to contact the domestic violence hotline to be able to get some information to pass onto her, but also for her
to think about getting on the phone with the hotline worker.

It’s always the victim’s
decision. If the victim answers ‘No, I don’t want to get on the phone,’ then we respect that, but we encourage
her again. And we say, ‘Well, that’s fine, you don’t have to, but I’m gonna call the domestic violence
hotline to get some information to pass onto you and while I’m on the phone, I’d just like you to think about
speaking with them.’

We’ve essentially hit the victim cold with this kind of information,
or this overture that we’ve made to her. So we’d like her to have an opportunity to be able to process
it and proactively have the hotline worker right there, prepared to speak with her. WOLF: Let me ask you, just to
give a sense, what kinds of questions are you actually asking that help you make this determination?

The questions are, again, those that are most predictive of homicide, such as ‘Has he ever threatened you with a
weapon? Does he have access to firearms? Has he ever tried to—as we say in the screen—choke you?’ We know the word
is strangled, but choke is the word that the public commonly understands.

We ask questions like
that, that as we’ve determined from the research are most predictive of homicide. And not of re-abuse. That’s
a different level. Again, we’re trying to identify that portion of those victims who are being abused, who are
at the greatest risk of being killed.

WOLF: And just to understand
how this differentiates from common practice because I’m sure that police officers in many jurisdictions give
a referral of some kind when they leave. This sounds much more proactive, where the officer is actually making the
phone call in front of the victim. Is that sort of what distinguishes it from other methods?

It is absolutely. You’re right. The normal approach is for simple referral. We decided early on during the development
of this screen that it was not sufficient to have just an instrument that identified victims who were at a risk of
being killed, but to have something proactively to be able to move that victim along to be able to take action.

we found with our victims that we work with, who call for service, is that that is generally a different kind of
victim than the victim who picks up the telephone in the middle of the night to call the domestic violence hotline
because she is ready to get help. The victims that we see are not in the same—at the same stage.

a process called the stages of change that victims go through. And generally the victims that we’re seeing on
the road are those victims who are in the early stages of change. They don’t recognize the situation they’re
in, and they are less apt to move forward. And so the process, the lethality process, by asking the questions—and
hard questions to answer to—and telling the victim that in situations like this people have been killed, which is
true and we know that from the research, to try to open her eyes and try to get her to take action.

the hotline worker is another part of that. And part of the job of the hotline worker when she has the opportunity
to speak with the victim is that the hotline worker will encourage the victim to come in for services, even to the
point of scheduling an appointment and telling the victim that ‘You know, when tomorrow comes and you’re thinking
about this appointment, you’re not gonna want to come in. Resist that and come anyway.’

been successful in getting victims into services. The national percentages of victims who have been killed in domestic
violence situations—only four percent of them have ever availed themselves of the services of a domestic violence
program, because they didn’t know about it, because they weren’t ready to take action or they were afraid
to take action.

Well, now victims become aware of our services. And 38 percent of victims who
went in for services in 2010 in the state of Maryland, 38 percent of victims who spoke on the phone, excuse me, went
in for services. These are high-risk victims that we know of, none of that 38 percent which last year was nearly
1,200 victims, none of those victims was killed in a domestic situation.

So each one of those situations is challenging, really, to measure the impact on homicide, presumably, but you’re
looking for other indications like these are people who probably would not have gone for services if the officer
hadn’t been so proactive and the hotline operator also hadn’t been proactive.

In the last three years, our intimate partner homicide rate has been reduced by 41 percent. We can’t attribute
that to the lethality assessment program, but when we are getting the percentages and numbers of high-danger victims
into services that we are, none of those has been killed. And I think we can say with some hope that the reduction
is due, in large measure, to the work in the lethality assessment program.

So I’m speaking with Dave Sargent, who served 21 years with the metropolitan Police Department in Washington, and
is now helping train people in Maryland and around the country in the lethality assessment program.

I wanted to ask you how it started in Maryland, when did it actually start, and now how widely is the process used?

SARGENT: We went through a development process with a large committee,
multi-disciplinary committee between 2003 and 2005. We implemented it in the state of Maryland in October of 2005
and 92 percent of our law enforcement agencies that respond to calls for service participate in the lethality assessment
program, including our state police. All of our domestic violence programs in all of our counties are participants
as well.

Yes, we have extended beyond Maryland. The lethality assessment program is now being
implemented by more than 140 law enforcement agencies in 13 states with their partner programs. And we’re preparing
to train even more jurisdictions in other states as we speak.

So this has had a broader impact
than we imagined when we first began. I think it just speaks to the simplicity of use, but also to the paradigm shift
that has occurred in how victims are worked with, both by law enforcement and by the domestic violence program. The
communication level between the two, between domestic violence services and between law enforcement, has been a big
byproduct of the lethality assessment program.

It’s improved and it will improve if the
agency and the program are working together to make sure that there are successful aspects of this, that they try
to get a victim on the telephone, the officers do. That the hotline tries to get the victim into services, and encourages
them to take that step. And it happens.

And our, in small sample surveys that we’ve done
with victims, they have told us that they have gone in for services in one respect based on the partnership that
they felt between the law enforcement officer and the hotline worker during that time of that call for service. They
sensed a certain working together that was occurring, and they felt support from both that officer and that hotline
worker. And that was the encouragement that propelled them to move forward, to seek out the services.

So obviously you recommend that groundwork be laid between the police agency and the hotline to coordinate this,
obviously, because it just doesn’t happen naturally, it sounds like.

It has to happen. Both law enforcement agencies and the domestic violence program have to be willing to work together
to see this through.

WOLF: And the 11 questions, are they very user
friendly for a police officer? Can anyone do this or is it best if an officer is a special kind of officer trained
not only in this questionnaire but in the domestic violence issues?

We do go through considerable training because we want to be able to convey the process that we believe is at stake
here, and we want the officers and domestic violence advocates to fully understand the process. But the actual practice
of it is very, very simple.

Yes, any police officer can ask the questions. Any person who’s
working in an agency, a receptionist who’s working for an agency that may see a domestic violence victim come
in during the course of its normal work would be in a position to ask these, and they’re not conveying any kind
of professional or expert information in doing this. So essentially they’re serving as a conduit to that domestic
violence program where the expert information can be relayed.

So yes, anybody can do it, and
part of the process is to train other community partners to be able to use the lethality assessment program, such
as hospitals, departments of health, departments of social services, even the faith community because we find that
victims go to their faith leaders and disclose domestic violence and to seek guidance in large numbers. And if they’re
going to this source for help, then we need to work with that, with those faith leaders to be able to allow them
to be able to serve as an appropriate conduit to the professional help that is available through the domestic violence

WOLF: And if someone wanted to find out more about the
lethality assessment program, where can they get that information?

Well it’s on the Maryland Network against Domestic Violence’s website, which is All our
information is there, including our email information, which is

Great, well I thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Thank you so much, I appreciate the time.

WOLF: I’m Rob Wolf,
director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. I’ve been talking with David Sargent of the Maryland
Network Against Domestic Violence about the lethality assessment program. To find out more information about the
Center for Court Innovation you can visit our website at Thanks for listening.

May 2011

An Outsider’s Perspective on an Inside Job

New York City Commissioner of Probation Vincent N. Schiraldi, who previously
ran the juvenile justice system in Washington D.C., describes his journey from gadfly to government insider and the
reforms he’s been implementing along the way.

: This is Rob Wolf, director of communications for the Center for Court Innovation, and today
I’m with Vinnie Schiraldi, who is the commissioner of the Department of Probation in New York City.

: Good morning Rob. Thanks a lot for having me.

So you’ve been on the job for 13 months or so and you’re route to this job is kind of an interesting one,
and I thought maybe you could talk a little bit about how you began after college working with justice-involved youth
and traveled this route from advocate to working in the government.

So I was a house parent in a seven-bed home for juvenile delinquent boys run by the State Division for Youth. That’s
what the Office for Children and Family Services was called. The best job I ever had, I loved working with young

And then, you know, I just heard a speech by a really charismatic non-profit leader named
Jerome Miller who had deinstitutionalized the whole juvenile justice system for the state of Massachusetts and was
running a non-profit that did alternatives to incarceration. And I was hooked as soon as I heard this guy speak because
I really, really, really felt that incarceration was doing damage to these kids.

And so I chased
him out of the classroom when I was getting my master’s at Syracuse University. He hired me on the spot. I went to
work with a woman named Marsha Weissman, who lots of folks may know because she was at the Center for Community Alternatives
in New York. There I embarked upon a 25 year career in the non-profit world.

How did you end up running the juvenile justice system in Washington, DC?

Well, it was 2004 and I had been running the Justice Policy Institute, which is a major, major critic of over incarceration
in general, and specifically of the juvenile justice system in D.C.

I was writing op-eds and
screaming and yelling about how I wouldn’t kennel my dog in the D.C. juvenile justice system, and miraculously,
under enormous amounts of pressure, the mayor of D.C. hired me. Not pressure to hire me, pressure to do something
to fix this pathological system.

And he really broke the mold and everybody he had hired, or
everybody everybody hired before that had decades of experience running youth correctional facilities. And unfortunately,
this is a system where decades of experience can often be a minus in my opinion. Because so much of what goes on
in these systems is so bad. It’s just systemically bad. It’s not even just chronically bad.

so, to his credit, the mayor said you know what? I’m gonna try a different mold. I’m gonna bring a guy
in that really is outside the box. And that was Mayor Williams and then thankfully when Mayor Fenty got elected,
he kept me on.

WOLF: And so I understand you were the 20th director
in 19 years.

SCHIRALDI: That’s right.

But you stayed for five years. How did you manage to stay so much longer than anyone had and how did you—what kinds
of changes did you bring about? And how did you do it?

I did a couple things. One is that we really did articulate a vision that was very different than what was going

We said, too many of these kids are locked up. Many of them should be in community service,
community programs. We designed a really good set of community programs and then we tackled awful, awful institutional

We told every political leader that as we do this, there is gonna be enormous push-back.
The status quo will fight us back. Get ready because if you want to fix this you gotta know, the rubbers gonna hit
the road and you’re gonna have to take my back. If you’re not willing to do that, don’t bother hiring
me. So I told them coming in, don’t think this is gonna be an easy ride. This system is not gonna be shaken
up without fighting back.

And I had two votes of no-confidence from my unions within three months.
So they – I was right. And then people started leaking stuff to the press and, you know, to their credit, both mayors
and the city council, they took my back. They said we believe where this guy is going.

invite them up to activities we had there. We started a theatrical group. The kids were doing artwork. The kids were
taking guns that the police gave us, that had been disassembled, turning them into artwork, drawing together with
victims so that they could learn about, you know, victims of violence.

We were doing an enormous
amount of creative activity and every time I did it, I made sure the mayor, I made sure city council, I made sure
the judges, I made sure the media knew about it. Because I knew I was gonna take my hits so I needed to build up
a well of support.

WOLF: So what was the biggest lesson you’ve
learned from making the transition from advocacy to government?

I think the biggest thing I didn’t know is how much implementation and infrastructure matter, right? You can
sit back and think of all of the wonderful ideas in the world, but the trick with government isn’t just to come
up with good ideas. It’s to have those ideas implemented with some level of fidelity to what they were originally
about. And that’s, that’s really tricky.

I mean a lot of people don’t realize
that if I, today, decide I’m running a new program, it’s going to take a year before I can start that program.
I’ve got to write a scope of service. I’ve got to get it approved. A bunch of lawyers got to look at it. I’ve
got to get the money, you know? All of this stuff’s got to get together.

No actually, even
when I have the money, it’s going to take a year. So that’s something I really just, I didn’t know
anything about. I didn’t know anything about how difficult it was going to be to fix the boilers or procure
underwear for the kids in my facility.

These things were extraordinarily difficult in the government
context. And I, as an advocate, I had sort of always assumed that the bureaucrats that weren’t getting that
stuff done were dragging their feet, right? Because it just seems ridiculous that it’s gonna take six months
to procure new underwear for the kids so that they don’t have to wear recycled underwear when they come to the
facility. That’s a huge indignity and anyone who can’t fix that right away must be a bad person. So here
I am, and I’m a good person and I care about this, and I’m trying, and it’s taken me six months. So that was
a bit of a humbling lesson.

But on the other side, I do think that you don’t want to over
learn that lesson. What you don’t want to do is give up. You don’t want to start every reform with deflated
expectations. You got to have some rage in you and some fight in you, to believe that the unbelievable is true. So
even though it’s going to take you six months, you got to believe you can do it in two months. And you got to
fight like hell because if you do, you might get it done in six months, and then you might actually get it done,
which nobody did before, right?

The kids were always wearing recycled underwear. It took three
times as long as it should have, but they got underwear. So that was good. And that’s just one stupid little
example, but, although meaningful for kids, but we closed this facility that had been open since the ’60s.

don’t know how many of my staff people came up to me and said, “I never thought we were going to do this.” But
three and a half years in, I closed the old – Oak Hill it was called – it was the old facility, which was an awful,
awful place, and opened up a really beautiful, well-designed, new facility. That was, I got – I think that’s
the proudest moment in my entire career today. We padlocked Oak Hill and moved all those kids to that new place.
If you have a nice building and you want a good program, the synergy between the two really matters.

So let me ask you how you came to New York. What was the situation you were confronting?

The things I was confronted with here are very, very different than it was in D.C. because I think Marty did a good
job. Marty Horne, who was my predecessor, and Pat Brennan, I think, did a good job. I think, you know, New York’s
had some pretty, really terrific probation commissioners: Mike Jacobson, Catherine Abate, you know, a bunch of folks,
just tops in the field. So this wasn’t coming into a crippled, bitter place like I did in D.C., which is terrific
cause I can build.

Now’s the fun part, right? Now you can really sort of take the high level
and dream of making it higher, as opposed to having to slog through things like broilers and underwear, right?

think that by and large, people see us as a place that has a lot of decent people in it. So it’s not like they
don’t like my staff or don’t like the administration. But I feel like people view our services as generally
mediocre. And so in that respect, I do think that we could do some improving, particularly on the very essence of
the interaction between our staff and the people on probation. I think we can actually produce a better product.

But I can only do that cause Marty helped do all the stuff he did before. And the stuff he did
on juvenile justice, where he declared Project Zero, and he called the state centralized bureaucracy as a place where
nobody from New York City should go. He did that in 2004, and now Mayor Bloomberg came out and said, “We want to
take every single one of our kids out of that system in 2010.”

I think those were connected.
I don’t think that we should view them as independent acts. Marty laid down a marker. He started programs and
John Mattingly, [the commissioner] at ACS [the city’s Administration for Children’s Services], started
programs that have reduced the number of kids we put upstate by 62 percent. That’s an extraordinary reduction
in state commitments from New York City. And now we’re down to 300 kids left from New York City, in OCFS facilities.
And the end is within sight.

WOLF: That’s Office for Children
and Family Services facilities?

SCHIRALDI: That’s right. That’s
the state institution system.

WOLF: What is wrong, what has been
wrong with the state’s centralized bureaucracy?

What’s wrong with New York’s state centralized bureaucracy, called OCFS, is the same thing that’s
wrong and has been wrong with almost every state-centralized bureaucracy for juvenile institutions since the history
of these 220 years ago, which is that they turn into loveless, mediocre at best, often far less than that, brutalizing
at times, but dehumanizing almost always, environments for kids that get shipped far away from home, who come back
certainly no better and often a lot worse than they went.

In New York you hear about the justice
department’s lawsuit, kids getting their teeth broken and bones broken for things like asking for extra dessert
or talking in line, or putting too much sugar in their orange juice—silly stuff like that. And those are the highlights,
but—or low lights—but it’s also the day to day sort of lack of love. And I think what’s been said that
the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. And I think that that’s really what characterizes most
of these training schools around the country and certainly in New York.

That and this enormous
distance between where these kids are and where they end up going—to the Finger Lakes and Adirondacks, and all these
crazy training schools—I think adds to it. I think if the kids were home we could have community vendors and community
institutions like churches and youth groups working with them so that when they come out, they are already engaged
with those folks.

WOLF: Your job involves also not just young people,
but 27,000 adults who are on probation as well. Maybe you can talk a little bit about innovations that you’re
pursuing there.

SCHIRALDI: We have, like you said, 27,000 adults
that we’re supervising at any given time, and what we’re trying to do it take a lead from the National
Institute of Correction’s playbook, which talks all about evidence-based interactions between probation officers
and people on probation, to try to do what the research says should help people: Get a good risk-assessment instrument,
find out who’s high, medium, and low, do very little with the low, with the medium and high really focus resources
on dealing with the issues that matter from a crime-control standpoint. What should really correlate with re-arrest,

We’re going to train all our staff on how to do that, we’re going get an evidence-based
risk assessment instrument to help them, right? But the thing I think that will be different from us, that we’ll
do than the NIC playbook is we’re gonna take a lead from the Center for Court Innovation’s playbook, and
we’re going to do all of that in a very community-based, community-development setting, right? One of which
we hope we’ll do together with you guys in Brownsville, right?

So we’re saying, yes
it matters that we follow evidence as to how we interact with people. But it also matters that people reintegrate
into their own neighborhoods, which by the way, characterizes the vast majority of jurisprudence in the world prior
to about 150 years ago.

Prior to about 150 years ago, most times people broke the law, it got
solved—it happened within a few blocks of where they lived, a few miles, a few feet, and it got dealt with right
in that neighborhood.

We have professionalized that and moved everything to downtown courthouses
and downtown probation departments and upstate prisons, and I think by doing that we make things worse. I don’t
think we make things—I don’t think we make things uniformly better. There were some things that got better,
but I think the part where the community actually has a stake in what happens to its miscreants, if you want to call
them that, right? We lost that. And that, I think, matters.

So like CCI has brought that back
in places like Red
and Greenpoint
and Harlem,
we want to do that too and we are overtly standing with you guys and we thank you for allowing us to do so.

Well, it’s exciting to think about the Brownsville project, which is one of our newest projects in planning—a new
community court with a youth-focus.

I’ve been speaking with Vinnie Schiraldi, the commissioner
of the Department of Probation. Thanks so much for coming by our office today to give a presentation to staff and
spending some time to talk with me.

SCHIRALDI: Thanks Rob, it was
a really good way to end the week.

WOLF: And I’m Rob Wolf, director
of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. If you want to find out more about our work, visit our website
at Thanks for listening.