GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Gaston County is in the early phases of a program designed to identify high-risk domestic violence abusers and stop them before their cases become fatal.
The plan starts with police using a questionnaire that is expected to save lives.
Officers who respond to a domestic call must ask 11 questions developed by national domestic violence experts.
The answers can determine if an alleged abuser has a high risk of killing a victim.
Those questions are aimed to give enough information so the district attorney’s office and advocates can activate a plan to hold the suspect long enough for the victim to get help.
A domestic violence survivor who asked not to be identified said that plan would have made a huge difference in her case more than 15 years ago.
“The police came, and they said, ‘Well, you must have done something to make her mad,’” the woman said.
She looked through the questionnaire developed to walk police through a threat assessment.
Her answers to the situation back then indicated a high-danger risk and would have triggered a response that could have helped her dramatically.
“I wouldn’t have had to handle it all on my own,” the woman said.
The district attorney said questions can help determine what is likely to happen to the victim.
Questions include: Have you been strangled? Have they threatened or tried suicide? Do they own a gun?
“It’s predictable and if it’s predictable, then it’s preventable,” said district attorney Travis Page.
Page said the answers can lead to a higher bond, which would hold a suspected abuser in jail.
A team can also connect the victim to resources for mental health, legal advice, transportation, childcare and more.
“(It is) empowering that person to make the decisions that are best for them,” said Tara Joyner, the executive director at the Hope United Survivor Network.
The system is designed to protect survivors until they and their families are safe.
Planners are currently teaching police to use the threat assessment tool.
There are also two questions about strangulation on the questionnaire.
The Geiger Institute, which developed the questionnaire, said when a person is strangled by a partner, their chances of being killed increase by 750%.
The district attorney says the plan will be fully implemented by early next year. All law enforcement offices and departments in the county are participating.
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