The Community Safety Assessment (formerly known as the Safety and Accountability Audit), developed by the late Ellen Pence and Praxis International, Inc., is a process of examining the work practices of agencies/institutions to determine if those practices strengthen or impede safety for victims of intimate partner violence.

A Community Safety Assessment is undertaken by local teams in communities to discover systemic impediments to and gaps in victim safety, and produces concrete recommendations addressing the removal of those impediments and the closing of those gaps.

The Assessment is designed to leave communities with new insights into victim safety, sharper skills in problem investigation and solving, and stronger relationships among community partners that can be applied to an ongoing review of its response to intimate partner violence. The process is founded on understanding how: 1) a victim of intimate partner violence becomes “a case” taken up by an institution; 2) responses to that case are organized and coordinated in and across intervening agencies; and 3) the complexity of risk and safety varies for each victim of battering.

Why Conduct an Assessment?

In the past 40 years, every state and hundreds of communities have initiated criminal and civil justice reforms improving victim safety and offender accountability in that chain of events. Laws have been changed, policies written, procedures revised, and trainings conducted. Domestic violence coordinating councils, task forces, and CCR teams have been formed. Are communities safer for domestic violence victims and their children? Are offenders held accountable for violence and coercion? Have our good intentions and reforms helped or hurt? The Assessment process helps answer these questions from the standpoint of victims and their children.

The Assessment is intended to help communities work toward common goals of enhancing victim safety and ensuring offender and systemic accountability when intervening in intimate partner violence cases. When a victim of intimate partner violence dials 911 for help, she activates a complex institutional apparatus responsible for public safety. Within minutes that call is translated into something institutions can act on: that experience becomes a domestic assault case. Over the day, up to a dozen individuals will act on her case. They hail from as many as five agencies and represent four levels of government.

Over the next year, the number of agencies and people who work with her case – and therefore her safety – will more than double. 911 call-takers and dispatchers, patrol officers, jailers, court clerks, emergency room doctors and nurses, detectives, prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement or prosecutor’s victim specialists, child protection services workers, civil court judges, criminal court judges, family court judges, guardians ad litem, therapists, social workers, probation officers, shelter advocates, children’s advocates, legal advocates, and support group facilitators may become involved in a chain of events activated by that single call.

Participating in a Safety Assessment provides a unique and focused opportunity for a community to examine how intimate partner violence cases are handled in their systems, and based on that analysis, implement improvements.

Who Conducts an Assessment?

A multi-disciplinary group of local practitioners are trained to serve as the Assessment Team. Members are selected based on the focus of the audit, and so the size of the team varies. The Assessment Team collects and analyzes data, and makes findings and recommendations which are summarized in a report.

How Does the Team Collect and Analyze Data?

To ensure a comprehensive look at victim safety, team members examine the processing of intimate partner violence cases at different points of intervention through interviews with and observations of skilled practitioners and analysis of the reports and interagency communication that they produce. Their knowledge of everyday practice and first-hand experience with people whose cases are being processed supply many of the critical observations and insights of the Assessment. Depending on the focus, analysis is conducted on police reports, case files, presentence investigations, and other information produced by the system.

During data collection and analysis, team members pay attention to the ways in which institutions standardize workers’ actions, such as through: rules and regulations, administrative practices, resources, concepts and theories, linkages, accountability, and education/training.

Central to this work is the effort to see any gap in victim safety from a victim’s perspective and see how it is may be produced by case management practices. In discovering how a problem is produced, team members simultaneously discover how to solve it. Recommendations then link directly to the creation of new standardizing practices, such as new rules, policies, procedures, forms, and training.

Who May I Contact for More Information?

If you are an OVW Improving Criminal Justice Responses grantee (formerly “Arrest" or GTEAP grantee) or if you wish to assess a criminal justice system response in your community, please contact BWJP at (800) 903-0111, ext. 1 or email technicalassistance@bwjp.org.

If you are an OVW Rural grantee or wish to audit any other kind of system, please contact Praxis International at (651) 699-8000.

For additional general information on the safety audit process, outcomes, roles, and logistics, visit Praxis International.

For reports from communities who have completed assessments, visit Praxis International or the Resource Center of this website.