Vice President Joe Biden and the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were in Rockville on Wednesday to announce a national domestic violence initiative modeled after a Maryland program.
The Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention demonstration initiative, a Department of Justice program, will help state and local jurisdictions reduce domestic violence homicides by identifying potential victims and monitoring high-risk offenders.
“It's a blight on our nation's conscious. There's no more urgent need,” Biden said.
The DVHP Initiative is modeled after the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, which coordinates teams of law enforcement, prosecutors, health professionals and victims’ services. Gov. Martin O’Malley said the collaborative effort has helped drive down the state’s reports of domestic violence by 17 percent since 2006.
“It's about realizing it’s as the Talmud said: If you can just save one life, it is as if you have saved the world,” said O’Malley (D). “Together we can save a lot more lives. “
The national initiative would award $2.3 million to 12 sites across the country. The Washington Post reported early Wednesday that the sites were in California; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Boston; Brooklyn, NY, North Carolina; South Carolina; Ohio; and Vermont.
O’Malley, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) of Pikesville, and Montgomery County Sheriff Darren M. Popkin joined Biden and Holder in making the announcement, as did actress actress Mariska Hargitay, founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation. Hargitay did not speak.
The Montgomery County Family Justice Center opened its doors in 2009 with the help of Justice Department funding. The center has served more than 5,000 people, Popkin said.
One of the many services the center offers is a lethality assessment. Pioneered in Maryland, the lethality assessment is an 11-question survey police use in domestic violence cases.
“This lethality assessment allows us to focus in on those cases in which if there’s not an intervention, it could lead to death,” O’Malley said.
Janet Blackburn, who spoke at Wednesday's announcement, said the lethality assessment might have saved her sister Gail Pumphrey, who died in 2007 at the hands of her ex-husband.
Pumphrey’s body and the bodies of her three children were found in Unity Neighborhood Park in Damascus—where she was supposed to meet her ex-husband to hand off their kids, Blackburn said.
Police said her ex-husband, David Brockdorff, shot Pumphrey and the children before committing suicide on Thanksgiving Day, several news outlets reported. Police said there had been a record of domestic violence.
“Perhaps the lethality screening would have validated Gale's fear,” Blackburn said. “Perhaps she would have recognized and acted on the warning signs. Perhaps they would still be alive.”