BCSO program successful in doing on-the-spot risk assessment for domestic violence victims

Deputies have made almost 3,000 calls to a center assessing how deadly a victim’s situation might be

SAN ANTONIO – The most severe form of domestic violence is murder, and Bexar County sees that too often with one of the highest rates in the state.

In a domestic violence crisis, the ability to assess how deadly the situation is could save lives.

An array of organizations gathered at the Bexar County Courthouse on Tuesday to update the community on a pilot program helping law enforcement connect victims to resources while still at the scene.

When Bexar County deputies get to a scene and realize it involves domestic violence, they seek out the victim.

Figuring out how to help that victim can be difficult. However, their ability to help them on the spot has been elevated for the last year.

BCSO deputies can now dial a navigation line and connect with experts who do a lethality risk assessment with them over the phone.

The assessment determines the likelihood of the victim dying in a domestic violence situation.

In Bexar County, the trained team of 16 people is from the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC).

The communications team at STRAC will ask 11 specific danger risk assessment questions, and they will end up concluding that the risk is either high, medium, or low.

The Danger Assessment for Law Enforcement (DALE) is an evidence-based test created at Johns Hopkins University and offered to law enforcement nationwide.

“Is this the first time that you’ve been subject to domestic violence? Did they try to choke you? Have they tried to hurt you or kill you in the past? Have they ever tried suicide?” said STRAC Chief of Operations Dudley Wait about the questions asked.

Wait said action plans and resources are put into place on the spot.

If the risk is deemed high, that person will be taken to a safe location and given basic necessities. A Metro Health domestic violence case manager will then contact them immediately.

“Having to say, ‘We’ve got to get you out now, or you’re going to become a heartbreaking statistic, and we don’t want it to get to that point. So we got to get you, your children, your pets out of this situation,’” Sheriff Salazar said.

A group of stakeholders was present at Tuesday’s press conference, including the following:

  • BCSO
  • Metro Health, which offers the casework
  • University Health, which funds the pilot program
  • Collaborative Commission on Domestic Violence, which came up with the program idea
  • Family Violence Prevention Services
  • PEACE Initiative

They announced that things are looking good at the program’s halfway mark.

Deputies have made almost 3,000 calls to the navigation line in the last year.

“While we’d love to do the touchdown dance and celebrate, we also realize having seen some of the heartbreaking cases that we’re still continuing to handle, taking into consideration the heartbreaking strangulation cases we’ve seen as of late, it reminds us there’s still a lot of work to do,” Sheriff Salazar said.

The pilot program will continue for another year, and then data and efficacy will be fully assessed.

Click here to access domestic violence resources from KSAT

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.