Westchester County Domestic Violence High Risk Team

By Robin Schlaff, Esq., and Darlene Reda, Esq., Westchester County Office for Women; Stacey Neumann, Co-Chair of Westchester Women’s Bar Association Domestic Violence Sub-Committee

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and we would like to introduce you to our innovative initiative in Westchester County to increase safety for victims of domestic violence and their families.

The Domestic Violence High Risk Team (“Team”) is a multi-agency collaborative approach to prevent DV homicides and serious risk of harm by identifying families at highest risk and intervening by providing immediate support and services.

The impetus for the creation of the Team was the horrific 2017 murder-suicide in the affluent suburb of Pound Ridge where Steven Dym shot and killed his wife Loretta and daughter Caroline before turning the gun on himself.

We knew we had to act, and our Westchester DV stakeholders applied for a grant to implement the Lethality Assessment Program (“LAP”). At the core of the LAP is a set of 12 evidence-based questions used to assess the level of risk in domestic violence cases. It is predicated on the work of Dr. Jaqueline Campbell from Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. Dr. Campbell interviewed abused women, shelter workers, law enforcement officials and other clinical experts on battering and from that research, identified key risk factors that were incorporated into a series of questions that became known as the Danger Assessment.

Partners on our team include County Offices for Women, Probation, Public Safety and Mental Health, District Attorney’s Office, Hope’s Door, Pace Women’s Justice Center, Westchester Medical Center, My Sisters’ Place, Putnam/Northern Westchester Women’s Resource Center, Victims Assistance Services and Legal Services of Hudson Valley.

Team meetings are called to brainstorm about safety planning, charges, and offender accountability.  The benefits of meeting are exponential – ideas are floated to enhance charges and relationships are formed between critical partners that have resulted in trust and a better understanding of domestic violence.

Legal service providers on the team assist victims in a range of civil family law matters including child custody and support, immigration assistance and obtaining orders of protection, while the DA’s Office and Probation work with victims to ensure offender accountability. Victims and their families tell us they feel safer knowing there is a cocoon of providers looking out for their safety.

Our goal is to expand this model statewide and by doing so, save lives as well as honor those lives lost due to domestic violence.

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