Tracy had been threatened, stalked, slapped and beaten by her ex-boyfriend. But it wasn't until a police officer pulled out a form and read a series of questions designed to determine her risk of being killed that she realized the danger she was facing.
"They do put things in perspective," she said of the questions.
Tracy, who asked that her last name be kept confidential, is one of a growing number of domestic violence victims who have benefited from a new screening process used by some police departments at scenes of clashes, regardless of the degree of intensity, between intimate partners.
Called Lethality Assessment Program (L.A.P.), it assesses the likelihood that the victims — usually women — could be killed by their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends or former partners. It is modeled after a program developed in Maryland with questions by Jacquelyn Campbell of Johns Hopkins University.
The form has 11 simple questions that ask for a yes or no answer. If, based on the answers, a victim is determined to be at risk, the officer calls the area domestic violence agency while still at the scene and hands the phone to the victim. A counselor at the agency then tells the victim how to be safe.
The questions range from direct ones, such as "Has he/she ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a weapon?" to less obvious queries, such as, "Is he/she unemployed?"
In Connecticut, it started as a pilot program in 2012 and went statewide this year.
Now, 31 police agencies from across the state are using the assessment forms at domestic violence scenes. The municipalities stretch from Groton to Greenwich and from Ansonia — the first department in the state to use the program — to Manchester. L.A.P. is the result of a collaboration between the Police Officer Standards and Training Council and the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The timing couldn't be better: There have been 10 intimate partner homicides this year, already eclipsing the number for all of 2013. Two of the crime scenes were murder-suicides.
Victims have said the gentle intervention of a police officer "changed their perspective," said Liza Andrews, the coalition's communications and public policy specialist. "Because for the police officer to make that call from their personal cellphone … and hand that phone to the victim" shows that the officer really cares, she said.
And to have a domestic violence expert already on the other end of the phone that's handed to the victim means there's one less step for her to take.
"If you have three kids and a husband who's melting down emotionally, it's very difficult to make that call," said Karen Jarmoc, the coalition's executive director, at an event at the Legislative Office Building last week.
For Tracy, it was a question about whether her boyfriend ever tried to commit suicide that put things in focus. She recalled he had told her that if she leaves him, he'll kill himself, she said.
That made her think: If he's suicidal, "Of course he's capable of killing me," she said.
"The questions really make you think."
She said she also liked getting an immediate offer of assistance from a domestic violence expert and loves the fact that help is available 24/7. (The statewide number for domestic violence advice is 888-774-2900) It lets victims know they are not alone, she said, no matter what time it is.
The first time Tracy was screened — she participated three times — she called police because her ex-boyfriend had been sitting in a car watching her house from a distance and leaving her threatening voicemail messages throughout the night. He had been angry about their breakup and earlier chased her with a large flashlight when she asked him to leave, she said.
She opted to have family stay with her instead of leaving home for a domestic violence shelter, she said. Her ex-boyfriend was arrested within four hours of her calling police.
"I can't imagine what would have happened … if I had not called for help," she said.
Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara said his department has been doing the assessments for more than a year. In April, Fairfield officers did seven lethality screenings, one of which involved a person who was at a high risk of death, he said.