CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WSAV) – The Chatham County Police Department (CCPD) is changing the way they investigate domestic violence crimes.
On Tuesday, the department announced they will be instituting new measures to help identify and potentially save victims who are most at risk.
CCPD says the change comes after several months of study and preparation.
Now, when officers respond to a domestic violence call, they will ask the victim a series of targeted questions as the Lethality Assessment. The victim’s answers will help officers identify if they are in a situation that could get worse — or potentially be deadly.
“The questions that are asked, it goes beyond what happened that night, you know,” said Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley. “That may be the first time that we’ve been there, that doesn’t mean that’s the first time something’s been going on in the home.”
Cheryl Branch, Executive Director of SAFE Shelter, sees victims of domestic violence every day.
“It sounds kind of corny, but literally one phone call could save your life,” said Branch. “The four homicides that we’ve had a year to date in Chatham County…we never heard from them.”
But CCPD is hoping if a victim does make that call they are asking the right questions.
The Lethality Assesment is based on a national model. Questions are asked in private, away from other people, so victims feel free to speak.
In cases where the risk is deemed great, victims will have the opportunity to be transported by a CCPD officer to a SAFE Shelter where they will immediately receive assistance and a place to stay.
“You have a window of opportunity where they really are frightened,” said Branch, adding, “Then the officer can say, ‘Let me call SAFE Shelter for you.’ They can say no, but it puts that idea in their head.”
Chief Hadley says having a set list of questions allows officers to focus on what’s important.
“When you show up at those scenes as a patrol officer it’s highly emotional, there are a lot of parties involved,” said Hadley. “Or there can be children there running around you know we don’t want to forget to ask the right questions and do the best we can.”
Training will be conducted for all patrol officers on when and how the questionnaire should be used, and what results require immediate action.
The goal is to get victims safe and prevent any further harm.
“You can’t second guess what an abusive personality is going to do because if they find out you are planning on leaving it is the most dangerous time for you,” said Branch.
SAFE Shelter offers confidential, secure temporary housing for women and children. They also have an outreach program for victims who do not require shelter, but still, need help.
For a full list of programs and resources visit here.