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ND Police Test Risk-Assessment Tool for Repeat Domestic Assault

ODARA consists of 13 questions police ask a domestic violence victim to assess the risk that their abuser might re-offend. (Victor Moussa/Adobe Stock)
ODARA consists of 13 questions police ask a domestic violence victim to assess the risk that their abuser might re-offend. (Victor Moussa/Adobe Stock)
December 6, 2019

MINOT, N.D. – Law enforcement in a North Dakota county is testing out a tool that measures a domestic violence offender's likelihood of assaulting again.

The Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, or ODARA, is an evidence-based questionnaire from Canadian police and health officials. Researchers found it's 77% accurate at predicting future assaults by males on a female victim.

An offender's score is shared with prosecutors and judges to determine if a higher bond or no-contact order is necessary. Capt. Jason Kraft is with the Ward County Sheriff's Department, where the tool is being tested.

"Our ultimate goal is to try to help victims and stop the cycle of domestic violence,” says Kraft. “So, if using this tool can help us break that cycle, or get that victim the proper services that they need, I think this would be a very beneficial thing."

Kraft says the department should have all of its deputies trained to use ODARA this month.

It consists of 13 questions for the victim, such as, 'Has the offender threatened to kill you or anyone else,' and their substance-abuse history. A higher score indicates a higher risk of re-offending.

ODARA has been implemented in some parts of Iowa and New Jersey, and statewide in Maine. Law enforcement and advocates for domestic violence victims say the goal is to get everyone associated with a case on the same page about a person's potential threat.

Tara Bjornson, assistant director of the Domestic Violence Crisis Center in Minot, says while no assessment is 100 percent accurate, information can help prevent future assaults.

"Once you take in the totality of the circumstances and you factor in as much information as you can, it can be a very useful tool for law enforcement, for the high-risk team, to keep a victim safe from future harm," says Bjornson.

Nancy Murphy, criminal justice advocate with the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, says she's been doing criminal justice advocacy work for many years, and doesn't see many consequences for domestic violence.

"How do we protect them in their own homes?,” asks Murphy. “How do we hold this offender accountable? How do we get better sentencing or treatment – whatever it is that they need to stop this violence? This is just one more tool we're looking at."

Murphy says other North Dakota counties are using similar assessments. Ward County is coordinating with the state attorney to determine if other agencies should bring ODARA on board.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND