Preventing Domestic Violence Homicides in our Community
It’s the question on everyone’s mind whenever a domestic violence homicide makes the news: how could this have been prevented? In August 2014, REACH, the Waltham Police Department and the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office (MDAO) launched the Waltham High Risk Response Team (WHRT), bringing service providers together with law enforcement, the courts, probation, and others to identify and support victims of domestic violence who are at high risk for homicide. All members of the team use a risk assessment tool to identify the most dangerous cases of domestic abuse. This tool is based on evidence from decades of scholarly research identifying common factors in domestic violence homicides. REACH convenes monthly meetings where team members talk about cases and share risk assessment information provided by survivors, as well as public record information regarding offenders. This allows us to flag cases that have a high risk of homicide and to intervene more effectively. A key to this intervention is cooperation among partners from different sectors of the community, all of whom may have contact with a family experiencing abuse.
Our team currently has 15 active partners including law enforcement officers from the Waltham and Watertown police departments, representatives from the MDAO, Waltham District Court Probation Department, Greater Boston Legal Services, Journey to Safety, and the Department of Children and Families. We also consult with batterer intervention programs on these complicated cases. We plan to bring the schools, housing and health care providers on board in order to coordinate even more resources.
Since the team was formed, 37 cases have been identified. We discuss risk factors and decide what each partner’s role will be in improving the survivor’s safety and holding the offender accountable. Such information informs safety planning with survivors and decision-making on criminal matters, such as bail setting and other measures that keep offenders contained. By working together, the WHRT is increasing the protective factors for survivors and preventing dangerous cases from escalating.