Published: Nov. 18, 2020

The CU Boulder Police Department is the first police department in Boulder County and the first college or university police department in the state of Colorado to train in lethality assessments.

A lethality assessment program is an evaluation that can be used to predict the likelihood that an abuser in a domestic violence situation will kill the person they are abusing, allowing law enforcement and their partners to intervene before the situation becomes more violent. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner. Oftentimes, the killers showed indications that they were a threat ahead of time.

“Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner abuse, is happening in all communities and CU is not exempt,” said Jessica Ladd-Webert, director of the CU Boulder Office of Victim Assistance (OVA). “This program can help victims/survivors learn more about the warning signs of domestic violence and also will help connect them to confidential supports like OVA, where they can get advocacy and counseling.”

Providing police officers with lethality assessment training was one of the recommendations that came out of an independent review of actions given to the University of Utah’s Department of Public Safety following the murder of 21-year-old student-athlete Lauren McCluskey in October 2018. McClusky had been in a brief relationship with a person who shot and killed her outside of her residence hall after McClusky ended their relationship. The independent review found that there may have been subtle indicators provided to police officers investigating her case that showed that the suspect may have had the potential to kill McClusky. 

The assessment is based on many factors in a domestic violence relationship, some more dangerous than others, that have been proven to be precursors of murder. Oftentimes, the victim is not aware of how much danger they are really in or how to get help. 

“We are very proud that our department is leading this effort in Boulder County,” said CU Boulder Police Chief Doreen Jokerst. “Our officers have been trained and have already started to implement the program.”

There are two primary goals of the lethality assessment program: to educate intimate partner violence victims/survivors about risk factors and to connect them with support and safety planning services. 

“The District Attorney’s Office applauds the CU Boulder Police Department for helping to identify high-risk incidents of intimate partner violence, which will strengthen our ability to protect the most vulnerable victims,” Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said. “This initiative is consistent with best practices for responding to, and investigating domestic violence cases. We look forward to partnering with CUPD to implement the protocol county-wide and to further enhance the outstanding work of the law enforcement agencies in the fight against intimate partner violence in Boulder County.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic incidents of domestic violence have increased as people are spending more time at home to mitigate the spread of the virus. For people who are experiencing domestic violence this scenario can worsen already toxic or abusive situations. If you have concerns about abuse from a partner, or if you are concerned about a friend's abusive partner, there are  many options for reporting, services, and assistance. For more information visit the CU Boulder reporting options webpage. Retaliation for reporting is strictly prohibited. For free and confidential advocacy/counseling please contact CU Boulder’s Office of Victim Assistance (OVA), 303-492-8855. For support, to ask questions about the police process, and/or to report an incident, please contact CUPD at 303-492-6666.