Utah law enforcement officials are praising the statewide implementation of a new program aimed at combating domestic violence.
Spearheaded by the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson, the initiative mandates the use of a lethality assessment protocol, which allows law enforcement officers to identify victims of domestic violence who are at the highest risk of severe injury or death at the hands of their intimate partners.
Previously, Utah law enforcement agencies were not required to utilize such protocols when responding to domestic violence calls. However, the passing of SB 117 earlier this year unanimously by the Utah Legislature marked a turning point.
Now, the lethality assessment can be used at the scene of any intimate partner violence incident and requires data collection and analysis at the Statewide Information and Analysis Center. Additionally, relevant information regarding offenders must now be made available to law enforcement officers on the scene.
The motivation behind the program was personal for Henderson, after her cousin Amanda “Mandy” Mayne was tragically killed by her ex-husband in August 2022.
“It was pretty clear that there were warning signs … They didn’t get caught because, largely, law enforcement was operating in silos … We worked really hard to assess the root of the problem because I knew that this was not just my family’s problem,” Henderson reflected.
The pilot program, which launched in May 2023, received participation from 58 agencies and resulted in 206 completed assessments. Of these assessments, approximately 128 revealed that a victim was in a potentially lethal situation.
Alarming red flags identified by the program included an aggressor’s attempt to purchase a firearm and an aggressor, who had previously been identified as a homicide suspect in a domestic violence case.
To further enhance the implementation of the program, a mobile app will be developed for law enforcement officers, making it easier for them to utilize the lethality assessment protocol. The release of this app is scheduled for August, following the statewide implementation in July.
DPS Commissioner Jess Anderson was optimistic about the program.
“This tool implemented for the state of Utah, for law enforcement … will improve victims’ ability to get the help that they need and protect lives and save lives, and we’re already seeing that,” Anderson said in a statement.
While the lethality assessment protocol and program are significant steps forward in addressing domestic violence statewide, there are concerns about the limited resources available to meet the increasing need.
Domestic violence advocates and providers continue to face funding challenges, despite the historic investment of $30 million in victim services made during the recent legislative session.
“We’re so grateful for the legislative appropriation that helps to make up a little bit of that difference but still see an overall decrease in our funds. We know those referrals from law enforcement for the LAP are so needed and so needed for the survivors. But it is so difficult when we don’t have the funds,” said Ashlee Taylor, executive director of the Refuge Utah.
According to Taylor, Refuge Utah received approximately 3,000 hotline calls and had to turn away around 480 requests for shelter due to capacity limitations last year.
“We know that we have a need for larger shelter. We’ve been really focused on that and trying to move forward in a plan to be able to build a new shelter that can meet the capacity and the need in our county. But it’s really difficult when we’re just trying to keep status quo with our budgets being cut,” Taylor said.