The Development of the Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk (B-SAFER): A Tool for Criminal Justice Professionals

Executive Summary

This report describes the development and pilot testing of the Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk (B-SAFER). The first section, Project Overview, recounts the origins of the project and the early consultations between the authors and (a) Department of Justice staff, and (b) national and international experts in the fields of spousal violence and risk assessment.

A second section, Overview of Risk Assessment, describes various models of risk assessment to set the context for the B-SAFER project. Three models are reviewed: unstructured clinical decision-making, actuarial decision-making, and structured professional judgment. The case is made that structured professional judgment appears to be the method that is best suited to the requirements of criminal justice professionals.

Section 3, The Development of the B-SAFER, describes the process involved in moving from a lengthier risk assessment tool, the Spousal Assault Risk Assessment Guide (SARA), to a briefer, easier-to-use B-SAFER. The section reviews a comprehensive literature search, empirical data reduction analyses of the SARA, pilot testing in Sweden of a 20-item police risk assessment tool (SARA-Police Version), and the final format of the B-SAFER used for pilot testing.

The next section, Pilot Testing, describes the application of the B-SAFER within six police agencies in Canada, and in two jurisdictions in Sweden. The results of quantitative empirical analyses on Canadian and Swedish data are presented along with qualitative feedback received from police officers in Canada. Overall, the results were encouraging, suggesting that the B-SAFER tool includes relevant risk factors present in spousal assault cases and that the tool can be coded easily by police officers in the course of routine investigations. Moreover, the ratings of risk were diverse, and distributed almost normally in the Canadian samples, suggesting that police officers were able to use the B-SAFER coding instructions to make discriminations among perpetrators. Further, there was a limited association between B-SAFER ratings and recommended management strategies, and there was substantial variability both within and among officers in their recommendations regarding management. This suggests that police officers' recommendations regarding case management were influenced by their judgements of risk (both the presence of individual risk factors and overall level of risk), but also that B-SAFER ratings were not highly "prescriptive" with respect to management recommendations. Finally, the qualitative feedback from officers indicated that most of those responding found the B-SAFER to be a helpful and easy-to-use tool.

In the final section, Conclusions and Recommendations, we conclude that the B-SAFER is an appropriate and valuable tool that can be used by law enforcement agencies in Canada. It is recommended that the B-SAFER be made available to criminal justice professionals. Recommendations are also made regarding the development of software to assist in the administration of the B-SAFER, the development of training curricula, and continued research on the use of the B-SAFER in Canada.

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