- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

YORK, Pa. (AP) - If Alecia Armold has her way, every police department in Pennsylvania will be required to use a lethality assessment program that supporters say has reduced the number of domestic murders in its home state of Maryland.

So far, about a half-dozen police departments in York County have adopted the program, and more are considering it. Police in 33 states are using it, according to a spokeswoman for the program, created by the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

Armold is a daughter of Barbara Schrum, 55, of Dover, who was murdered May 29 along with friend Laurie Kuykendall Kepner, 53, at the Wellsville-area home of Kepner’s ex-husband.

The women went there to retrieve Kepner’s belongings and had nearly finished doing so when 60-year-old Martin Kepner shot them both in the head before committing suicide, officials said. He also stabbed Schrum in the neck.

“I have a lot of anger, obviously, and I need something to do with it,” Armold told The York Dispatch.

She explained she wants to do something positive and important with that energy, rather than allowing it fester inside her.

“I don’t want to give this ass (Martin Kepner) the satisfaction of taking my life away, too,” she said.

She started a petition at change.org, and a few days later more than 900 people had joined her in her mission to make the program mandatory for all police in Pennsylvania.

“It seems everyone wants to see a change,” she said.

Leaders involved: Lawmakers took notice even before Armold started the petition.

State Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, said she and Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, have been discussing the lethality assessment program since Schrum’s and Laurie Kuykendall Kepner’s murders.

“We’re looking into that right now,” she said. “We’re going to be talking to local law enforcement, victim advocates, and we would certainly welcome discussions with the victims’ families. … It absolutely breaks my heart to hear what happened in Wellsville.”

Klunk said her staff is reviewing research and gathering information. Klunk was recently appointed to the House Judiciary Committee and also serves on the Children and Youth Committee.

“I want to make sure domestic-violence victims in Pennsylvania are as safe and secure as we can possibly make them, and I want to make sure we’re giving our police officers on the ground the best tools possible,” she said. “But this is not going to happen overnight.”

Such research can take time, according to Klunk, who explained it’s critical to properly craft legislation from the start to increase the chances of a bill becoming law.

Escort issue: Klunk confirmed she also is looking into the issue of police, sheriff’s deputies and constables not doing escorts, called standbys, for domestic-violence victims who want to retrieve belongings they left behind but who don’t have PFAs or other civil court orders.

Laurie Kuykendall Kepner called the York County Sheriff’s Office and state police to ask that someone accompany her to her abusive ex-husband’s home, but both agencies declined, they said. Sheriff Richard Keuerleber and state police spokesman Trooper Rob Hicks both said their agencies require court orders to conduct standbys.

It’s unclear whether she contacted a state constable, but York County Constable Carl Barley, who’s been in the business for 25 years, said state rules forbid constables from doing standbys for anyone who doesn’t have a court order, apparently because of liability issues.

Assessment program: The chiefs of York County police departments using the lethality assessment program all say they believe it’s working well and said they plan to continue to use it.

“We support it completely,” York Area Regional Police Chief Tom Gross has said. Of the 100 assessments conducted by York Area officers in 2013, 82 of the victims were considered at risk of being killed by their partners or former partners, he said.

Amanda Wilson, manager of the lethality assessment program for Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said it’s been in use in that state for 10 years. Since then, domestic homicides have decreased significantly, she said, although it’s unclear it that’s entirely because of the program.

How it works: Police officers responding to domestic assaults and disturbances - or to any calls in which they suspect someone is a domestic-violence victim - ask the suspected victim 11 questions. The person’s answers determine if she is in danger of being killed by her intimate partner.

In York County, if a victim’s answers indicate an increased risk of homicide, an officer tells the victim, “I believe your life may be in danger. You need to talk to Access-York. I’d like to call them now,” according to Rick Azzaro, chief services officer of Access-York, which is dedicated to helping domestic-violence victims.

Also using the program in York County are Spring Garden Township Police, Hanover Police, Southwestern Regional Police and Penn Township Police. Southern Regional Police are in the process of adopting it.

Learning: Armold said she thinks the program could help people who don’t have the knowledge or tools to get out of abusive situations.

“I don’t know a lot about domestic abuse,” she said. “It never occurred to me that it would be something that would affect my life. But I am learning.”

Her hope is that all police departments in Pennsylvania use the program “so no one ever has to feel what I’m feeling right now.”

Armold also supports changing the law to require law enforcement to conduct standbys.

“I plan on doing whatever I can to see it through,” she said.

She said she believes her mother would be alive today if law enforcement had accompanied Laurie Kuykendall Kepner on May 29.

“I think the most frustrating thing for me is that it had to be my mom (who helped her) - that it was to a point where her only option was my mom,” Armold said.

Domestic-violence lethality screen for first responders

A response of yes to any of the first three questions automatically triggers a referral to a domestic-violence hotline or center:

1. Has he/she ever used a weapon against your or threatened you with a weapon?

2. Has he/she threatened to kill you or your children?

3. Do you think he/she might try to kill you?

Negative responses to Questions 1-3, but positive responses to at least four of Questions 4-11, trigger a referral:

4. Does he/she have a gun or can he/she get one easily?

5. Has he/she ever tried to choke you?

6. Is he/she violently or constantly jealous or does he/she control most of your daily activities?

7. Have you left him/her or separated after living together or being married?

8. Is he/she unemployed?

9. Has he/she ever tried to kill himself/herself?

10. Do you have a child that he/she knows is not his/hers?

11. Does he/she follow or spy on you or leave threatening messages?

An officer may do a referral as a result of the victim s response to the question below, or whenever an officer believes the victim is in a potentially lethal situation:

Is there anything else that worries you about your safety? And if yes, what worries you?

Source: Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1Thh93R

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Information from: The York Dispatch, http://www.yorkdispatch.com

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