NAU professor earns award from Arizona attorney general

Award acceptance
Award acceptance
Neil Websdale, left, professor of criminology and criminal justice, shakes hands with attorney general Terry Goddard while receiving his service award.

A Northern Arizona University professor who is renowned for his work in preventing domestic violence has earned a service award from the Arizona attorney general.

Neil Websdale, a professor of criminology and criminal justice, received the 2010 Attorney General Distinguished Service Award in Leadership on Monday in Phoenix. He was given the award by Attorney General Terry Goddard for his dedication to the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Teams Initiative.

“It’s hard to put the pictures of someone who has died on the table and bring in family members and loved ones and not be moved or touched by that,” said Websdale regarding his work with fatality review teams.

Websdale received the 2010 Attorney General Distinguished Service Award in Leadership Monday night at the Victim’s Rights Week Event in Phoenix for his dedication to the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Teams Initiative.

The Domestic Violence Fatality Review Teams Initiative, approved by the Governor’s Office in 2008, recommended the development and implementation of fatality review teams in local communities throughout Arizona. The teams make recommendations for system change to safeguard victims of domestic violence and prevent domestic violence related deaths.

Websdale has dedicated his professional career to reviewing domestic violence related deaths “in the spirit of prevention rather than blaming and shaming various parties.”

He discovered through research and work that a “wide-angle lens depth review brings the complexities of domestic violence related deaths into sharp focus,” Websdale said.

This wide-angle review examines cases in the long term and promotes conversation among everyone involved. Professional affiliates include law enforcement, court personnel, prosecutors, medical examiners, school districts, domestic violence advocates, counselors and agencies. Participating community members include family, friends, co-workers and neighbors of both the victim and the abuser.

By bringing all these entities to the same table, review teams can do more than collect statistical data identifying trends or patterns across cases; they can re-create the lifestyle and relationship of the victim and abuser in an attempt to understand why the death occurred, why the current system did not help the victim and how to prevent future deaths.

Websdale said the initiative’s greatest success has been an increase in the formal and informal communication between the entities.

“People are talking,” Websdale said. “We have massively improved the coordinated community response to a fatality.”

Websdale is determined to implement a team in every region of Arizona, which began 2009 with two teams and currently has seven. Every year there are 100 to 125 domestic violence related deaths, which includes the victims and the abusers who kill themselves. The teams are charged with improving the coordinated community response to a death and decreasing the number of deaths.

“Dr. Websdale has provided the vision of success that domestic fatality review teams can make a difference for victims of domestic violence,” said Jerald Monahan, chief of the Apache Junction Police Department and the program’s commissioner. “His initiative and commitment have made many in this effort believe we can help others and prevent homicide.”

Websdable speaks at meetings and trainings throughout Arizona and the United States, makes himself available daily to Arizona’s seven teams for encouragement and direction, and has organized a national domestic violence fatality review conference in Phoenix in August.

His goal is to have the initiative at NAU for the next 10 years and see fatality review teams spread throughout the United States, targeting states that do not have teams or have historically been resistant to the program. Oftentimes these states have poor coordinated community response, which can be improved by developing fatality review teams.

“It is his passion, his dedication to those trapped in abusive relationships, that drives him to continue this homicide prevention effort, not just in Arizona but around the nation,” Monahan said. “His longstanding efforts in this area speak to his commitment and integrity. He truly is a model and example for the rest of us.”