By Andrea McDonald-Marboe
Home Free Community Program (HFCP) of Missions, Inc. is dedicated to ensuring a community-wide response to domestic violence through coordination of law enforcement, criminal justice, and social service systems. With our 15 partner cities in Hennepin County, we provide crisis response, intervention, advocacy, and emergency housing for victims and their children, as well as education and training for law enforcement, prosecutors and court personnel.
Introducing the Blueprint for Safety
Since 1980, Home Free has worked with the Plymouth Police Department to ensure that victims of domestic violence receive advocacy services and support immediately (and as long as needed) following a domestic assault call. In the fall of 2016, Home Free, the Plymouth Police Department, and the Plymouth City Attorney’s Office partnered to launch a new comprehensive domestic violence victim advocacy program, the “Blueprint for Safety.” Then in 2018, with the Plymouth Blueprint Team in full stride, Home Free partnered with the Champlin Police Department and City Attorney’s Office to implement the Blueprint for Safety in the City of Champlin.
What is the Blueprint for Safety?
The Blueprint for Safety is a comprehensive inter-agency plan for the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence crimes – from 911 through sentencing and probation – linking criminal justice agencies together in a coherent, philosophically sound domestic violence intervention model. It was originally developed and implemented in St. Paul, Minn. with the leadership of city and county criminal justice departments, community-based agencies, the district court bench in the City of St. Paul, and through conversations and consultation with community members, advocates, researchers, and experts confronting this crime both locally and nationally. Praxis International has led and developed the Blueprint project across the country, as the premier nonprofit organization dedicated to the elimination of violence in the lives of women and their children through improving institutional responses to domestic violence cases.
“I was so excited to learn that part of my job would include developing and implementing the Blueprint in some of the cities we serve,” said Elsa Swenson, Home Free Community Program manager. “I’d had the opportunity to learn about and work on Blueprint efforts in my previous role with the Center for Domestic and Sexual Abuse in Superior, Wisconsin. It really is the best practice in supporting victim safety and security and holding offenders accountable.”
The Blueprint for Safety uses interagency policies, protocols, case processing procedures, and information sharing to: (a) maximize the ability of the state to gain a measure of control over a domestic violence offender; (b) use that control to intervene quickly when there are new acts of violence, intimidation or coercion; and (c) shift the burden of holding the offender accountable from the victim to the system.
Six foundational Blueprint principles maximize safety for victims of domestic violence and hold offenders accountable while offering them opportunities to change:
- Adhere to an interagency approach and collective intervention goals
- Build attention to the context and severity of abuse into each intervention
- Recognize that most domestic violence is a patterned crime requiring continuing engagement with victims and offenders
- Establish sure and swift consequences for continued abuse
- Use the power of the criminal justice system to send messages of help and accountability
- Act in ways that reduce unintended consequences and the disparity of impact on victims and offenders
How did we implement the Blueprint?
Starting in August, 2016, we’ve pursued the roadmap provided by Praxis – the Blueprint Adaptation Tasks and Timeline — with the Plymouth Blueprint Team.
- Phase I: Explore & Prepare
- Phase II: Assess Practice & Identify Problems
- Phase III: Adapt Policy & Adjust Practice
- Phase IV: Implement the Blueprint
The Plymouth Blueprint Team worked through systems change theory toward an integrated, victim-centered approach to domestic violence cases. “It’s a more robust service offering to determine the best course for the victim – a systematic approach from the time the 911 call is placed, to the time the court case is heard or a plea deal is reached,” according to Plymouth Public Safety Director Mike Goldstein. “It’s about getting the best possible outcome for the victims.”
Between August 2016 and May 2017, the Plymouth Blueprint Team
- mapped the flow of Plymouth domestic assault cases through the criminal justice system (which helped us identify several process changes we could implement right away)
- deconstructed and revised policies and protocols with Plymouth Police and Prosecutors
- initiated collaboration with advising partners (Praxis International, St. Paul & Ramsey County Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, and St. Paul Police Department) and new relationships with domestic violence service providers (Cornerstone, Sojourner Project, and Alina Forensic Nurse Examiner Program)
- presented a five-hour comprehensive Blueprint for Safety domestic assault training to all 77 Plymouth Police Department officers.
“In the past, after any domestic assault incidents, Plymouth police officers contacted Home Free, which reached out to victims to offer resources and support. However, that’s frequently where the contact ended,” said Plymouth Police Sgt. Curtis Smith. “With the Blueprint for Safety, the relationship between Plymouth Police Department and City Prosecutors has changed – for the better.”
In addition to expanded training for officers regarding domestic violence/abuse and abusers, officer involvement in each case has increased, including the new 24-hour follow-up protocol. After responding to a domestic assault incident, Plymouth police officers return within 24 hours to check on the victim. Officers make sure the victim is OK, re-examine and document any injuries, and ensure that the abuser has not returned or track down the abuser if they find s/he has.
The Blueprint project also developed a specific series of questions officers ask to determine risk for potential lethality. “Including the lethality assessment in our reports makes it easier for a judge to understand the abuser, which makes it easier for the victim to get a no contact order,” explained Smith.
“The Blueprint helps put more emphasis on the victims and highlights the complexity of domestic violence cases,” said Alina Schwartz, Plymouth City Attorney. The Blueprint helps us keep the victims engaged through the prosecution process which, in turn, helps us all work toward the best outcomes in any given case.” She also notes, “The answers to the lethality assessment questions assist judges in better evaluating cases while making a determination on whether or not to issue a Domestic Abuse No Contact Orders (DANCO). As a result, we have seen an increase in the number of cases where judges were willing to issue a DANCO – in important tool in protecting the victims. The process of working on Blueprint brought all partners together to work as a team.”
“We want to do what’s best for the safety of the victims,” said Smith. “We want them to think of police officers as a resource, not just the first responders who show up to make the arrest.”
(We are grateful beyond words for Sgt. Smith’s commitment to the Blueprint project; he began his well-earned retirement in May, 2019.)
In early 2018, Champlin police and prosecutors also signed on to the Home Free Blueprint for Safety project, and we were able to streamline the Champlin Blueprint Team efforts by sharing the lessons learned and strategies developed in Plymouth.
With the Plymouth and Champlin Blueprint Teams, Home Free will continue to pursue Phase 5 of the Blueprint Adaptation Tasks and Timeline: Monitor & Revise – continue to review cases, monitor practices, and adjust approaches as improvements are identified. We hope to initiate Blueprint efforts with other Home Free communities we serve, as well.
In January, 2019, Home Free spearheaded a Hennepin County Domestic Violence Advocacy work group, focused on systems change across county agencies that are integral to domestic assault cases. This team is in the process of investigating language access and interpretation availability among county agencies, in cases where victims and/or offenders have limited English proficiency or are deaf/hard of hearing. We expect this work to continue under the auspices of the Hennepin County Family Violence Coordinating Council’s Advocates Committee.
“It’s absolutely great work you are doing in Hennepin County,” said Denise Eng, Praxis International program manager and original developer of the Blueprint for Safety. “I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to work with you and excited to see what you’ll do with this.”
Andrea McDonald Marboe is the owner of Magpie Solutions and is the Blueprint for Safety consultant for Missions Inc. Programs