Westchester County is creating an expanded crisis intervention team that will identify families at highest risk of deadly domestic violence and intervene to save lives by providing enhanced support and services.
The Westchester County Domestic Violence High Risk Team (DVHRT), will harness the collaborative power of diverse partners across all of Westchester County to improve systems response, promote offender accountability, and enhance the safety of victims and their families identified as high risk for lethality or life-threatening assault. Partners will train law enforcement officers to conduct lethality screening at all domestic incident calls; will link victims with domestic violence service providers, including Hope’s Door, for on-going and trauma-informed services; and, if authorized by the victim, will coordinate to hold offenders accountable and to enhance victim safety.
The horrific murders of Amy Friedlander and her two young children in 2011 impelled members of the community in Northern Westchester to take action against abuse. This led to the establishment of a task force composed of survivors, domestic violence advocates, clergy, and police, which was co-chaired by advocates from Hope’s Door and Victims Assistance Services. The task force later secured the funding to open a site for counseling and assisting victims, named the New Dawn Family Resource Center. Hope’s Door began to staff the center one day a week and by appointment. Other task force members, including survivors, also provided peer support and expert DV services on site at the center.
Then came the Dym family murder/suicide in 2017, which further galvanized the community and led directly to the establishment of the Northern Westchester Risk Reduction Team (NWRRT).
Hope’s Door was a founding member of the original NWRRT, a two-year pilot program funded by the NYS Office for Prevention of Domestic Violence. As the program expands its work countywide, Hope’s Door will provide safety planning, counseling and legal services to 19 county and state police jurisdictions, representing 30% of our County population.
Key partners in the original team included:
Hope’s Door Director of Community Services Janmarie Brown, Director of Legal Services Stacey Neumann, and High Risk Coordinator Yanira Villaman, with leadership support from the Executive Director, CarlLa Horton, worked on a day-to-day basis to oversee the program and coordinate the team response.
Hope’s Door chaired monthly team meetings of the NWRRT, coordinated service delivery among the partners, provided 24/7 crisis intervention and High Risk Hotline response, found safety for victims in our shelter or another safe place, and provided a comprehensive array of services for survivors – all designed to overcome barriers to safety and independence in a trauma-informed manner.
According to CarlLa Horton, “NWRRT brought together many diverse partners with different perspectives and obligations. All partners worked hard to achieve our goals, and our success was reflected in the unanimous decision of the partners to continue the program even after our pilot project funding expired on September 30, 2019. We deeply understood, as a team, that we had to do more, that the safety of victims should not depend on where they lived within the county.”
The Westchester County Office for Women (OFW) was a driving force in our original NWRRT pilot project and has been in the forefront of efforts to expand services county-wide and establish the new DVHRT. OFW will serve as the oversight agency, collecting data, and ensuring compliance with roles and responsibilities. As an approved non-residential DV provider, OFW also will provide non-residential DV services to high-risk victims in 19 other jurisdictions in the County, representing another 33% of our county population.
Other partners joining OFW and Hope’s Door in the DVHRT include the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, Westchester County Probation Department, Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, Westchester Medical Center, My Sisters’ Place, Putnam/Northern Westchester Women’s Resource Center, Westchester Community Opportunity Program/Victims Assistance Services, Legal Services of Hudson Valley, and the Elizabeth S. Haub School of Law at Pace University/Women’s Justice Center. Other County agencies such as the Departments of Social Services and Community Mental Health are resources for the team.
“The implementation of a High Risk Team in Westchester County is an integral step in reducing lethality and risk of serious harm to victims of family violence. To be harmed by someone that is supposed to love and protect you is unfathomable to most, but it is a reality throughout the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, or gender. It is only by working together that we can change this reality,” said Robi Schlaff, Director of the County Office for Women.
Yanira Villaman, Risk Reduction Program Coordinator at Hope’s Door, agrees, adding, “We know that when a victim calls 911, it could often escalate the already dangerous situation that they are faced with. Responding to an emergency call with the help of a team that is trained in the dangers of intimate partner violence, and having the ability to immediately safety plan with a victim over the phone, is vital to their safety.”
Hope’s Door and other partners will assist with training officers in local police departments on the Lethality Assessment tool and the High Risk Team model and protocol before they join the team. Danger assessment begins with a simple but effective set of 11 questions. The answers to those questions guide an officer in assessing the level of immediate danger that a spouse or partner, even an entire family, may be in. In our jurisdictions, high-risk victims will receive immediate assistance from Hope’s Door, including crisis intervention, safety planning, emergency shelter, legal and other critical services.
The Hope’s Door Legal Center will assist victims in a range of civil family law matters including child custody and support, immigration assistance and obtaining orders of protection. In other areas of the County, DVHRT partners will provide these services.
“The High Risk team going countywide is a huge step towards safety and protection for those experiencing domestic violence in Westchester County. Domestic violence is real, it’s happening…and it is being acknowledged and addressed. No matter where someone is located in the county, those in high risk situations will receive the same enhanced, trauma informed response from the various multi-disciplinary teams involved. And Hope’s Door is here to continue to do the work,” said Janmarie Brown, Director of Community Services for Hope’s Door.