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Resources: Promising Practices

Forms Inform Courts on Firearms

Judges who preside over domestic violence protection order hearings are uniquely situated in their ability to remove firearms from potentially dangerous, or even fatal, situations. Many judges have the ability to remove firearms in domestic violence situations through catchall provisions if not directly provided for in their state's domestic violence/protection order statute. Some forward thinking judges have realized this opportunity to enhance survivor safety by using forms to provide additional information and remove firearms from domestic violence perpetrators. 

Judge Victor Reyes[1]  of the 10th Judicial District in Pueblo, Colorado, realized the need for firearm removal after attending judicial training on this matter. In Colorado, there were several problems. Initially, there was no way of knowing an abuser had firearms and there were neither forms to gather data on the presence of guns in the home, nor forms on removal of weapons. Judges were authorized to use the catchall provision of the protection order was used to prohibit possession of firearms when necessary. Despite use of the provision, there was still no way of knowing if firearms were present in the home.

Judge Reyes began to modify and implement a series of forms in his jurisdiction based on the Miami-Dade forms created by the late Hon. Amy Karan.[2] These forms include, but are not limited to, the following: sworn statement of possession, affidavit on firearms, order to surrender, order to show cause and petitioner listing of weapons. To implement the forms, Judge Reyes presented them at a local judges' meeting where the Chief Judge approved them. After their approval for use, the re-vamped forms became part of the packet offered to all petitioners requesting protection orders. Judge Reyes cites this action as the catalyst for the success of the forms in his jurisdiction. 

With the information provided by the new forms, judges are better able to address the presence and use of firearms, and hold offenders accountable. Both parties are required to provide information on the respondent's possession of firearms. An inquiry on firearms is also made on the record. After the judge orders the surrender of any guns detailed in the forms or mentioned on the record, the information contained in the forms is further used to monitor compliance with the firearm restrictions. Appropriate relief can include the removal of firearms from the respondent. Most importantly, guns are removed from dangerous offenders. 

Positive outcomes of adopting the forms include a more informed sheriff's office, as well as an increased number of guns surrendered. Third parties willing to accept the transfer of a weapon have a better understanding of responsibilities and restrictions placed on them and the prohibited party. Putting these forms in the hands of the petitioners as part of the documents to petition for a protection order has made all the difference in both granting the relief needed and ensuring compliance with an order that prohibits possession.

The leadership of forward thinking judges can be invaluable in increasing both survivor and community safety. Judge Reyes' thoughtful approach, suggesting the adaptation and adoption of firearm related forms in his jurisdiction, has presented a way to obtain information about and removal of weapons from dangerous individuals. This change did not require significant monetary cost to the jurisdiction, but required the commitment of the judiciary. This commitment has positively affected all parties involved in the protection order process.

For more information on or copies of these forms, please contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit. [3]

[1] Judge Reyes is a graduate of Emory University and Georgetown University Law Center. Prior to becoming a judge, he served as a Deputy State Public Defender for the State of Colorado. Judge Reyes has served as a District Judge since 1999 in the 10th Judicial District located in Pueblo, Colorado and has presided over criminal, civil, juvenile, and domestic matters. He is a past member of the Judicial Conference Planning Committee, the Colorado Criminal Rules Committee, the Project Safe Neighborhood Conference Committee, the Colorado Court Improvement Committee, the Statewide Domestic Offender Management Board, and the Fairness and Diversity Committee. He is also involved in presenting at State and National Judicial Conferences in the area of Domestic Violence. He currently lectures on issues related to judicial review hearings, immigration and firearms consequences nationally and for the State of Colorado.

[2] The late Judge Karan's service as the Administrative Judge of the Domestic Violence Court of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade, Florida was of great distinction. Her leadership on the bench highlighted Miami Domestic Violence Court as the premier example across the nation. The forms she created on civil protection orders and court procedures are widely used and are considered the national standard. Judge Karan was honored posthumously by Vice President Joe Biden for her service involving firearms and domestic violence. 

[3] If you have questions on this prohibition, the requirements which make a protection order domestic violence related firearm laws or protection orders, please contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit, (800) 903-0111, choice 2 or ncffc@bwjp.org or visit www.fullfaithandcredit.org.



GPS Monitoring for Violators of Protection Orders

Blair Gilbert, NCOPFFC Summer Intern

Several states have enacted statutes that grant courts authority to require domestic violence offenders to wear electronic tracking devices. These Global Positioning System (GPS) devices alert victims and dispatch police when offenders are within a certain radius of the victim. Courts have widely used GPS devices to track sex offenders and other parolees, but using electronic monitoring for domestic violence offenders is relatively new. Washington passed the first statute permitting judges to require GPS tracking in 1994.[1]  

Nationwide, at least fourteen states (Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington) have passed laws permitting judges to require an individual who violated a domestic violence protection order to wear an electronic tracking device.[2] The statutes are discretionary, with states varying their method of implementing GPS monitoring. Most jurisdictions allow judges to determine which offenders are required to wear the GPS tracking device, with some states allowing offenders to elect to wear the device as a condition of bail. Other states follow the judge’s discretion based on a risk-assessment of the offender, which may include an analysis of factors such as chronic unemployment and previous stalking behavior.

Supporters of electronic tracking for offenders claim it will encourage enforcement of protection orders. One study shows that up to 80% of protection orders are violated,[3] and evidence demonstrates a greater compliance rate with court orders when offenders are electronically monitored. Connecticut used GPS to monitor 119 high-risk domestic violence offenders from 2010-2011. During that time, none of the victims were reinjured.[4]  

GPS monitoring may increase victim autonomy and awareness of the offender’s whereabouts. The victim gains peace of mind knowing that the offender is being tracked and that they will be warned by email or text if the offender is within a certain distance. In at least one state, the victim may monitor the offender’s movements to determine if the offender is near a particular location.[5] Often offenders awaiting trial may choose to wear the GPS device and be released from jail. GPS monitoring allows the offender to continue working and meeting their responsibilities while awaiting trial.

Critics of electronic monitoring note problems with cost and technology. The cost of 24-hour monitoring is often paid by offenders. While the cost is nominal, it still may create a hardship on low-income offenders. Monitoring devices can give poor readings of the offender’s location and falsely show an offender has violated a protection order. A failure in technology may lead to a false violation of a protection order.

There are many benefits to GPS monitoring: decreased re-victimization, additional victim peace of mind, and increased victim autonomy. More states are enacting GPS monitoring legislation because of the success of electronic monitoring in other jurisdictions. With more states using GPS monitoring for violators of protection orders, more can look forward to an increase in offender accountability, a decrease in repeat violations of domestic violence protection orders and, most importantly, an increase in survivor safety.

Note: Many attribute the recent rise in states passing GPS monitoring legislation to the Cynthia L. Bischof Memorial Foundation. The foundation was established in memory of Ms. Bischof who was killed by her ex-boyfriend who had stalked her. Ms. Bischof had a protection order against her ex-boyfriend who repeatedly violated the order by calling her, following her, and breaking property near her house. Bischof detailed her stalker’s behavior and their interactions, reporting them to the police. Eventually her stalker spent 60 days in a psychiatric ward. After being released in March 2008, and despite the existing protection order, he killed Bischof and then himself. If the stalker had been monitored electronically, Bischof would have had notification of her stalker’s location, and she might still be alive.

[1] Revised Code of Washington 26.50.060(1)(j).

[2] Hannah Brenner, Transcending the Criminal Law's "One Size Fits All" Response to Domestic Violence, 19 WM. & MARY J. WOMEN & L. 301, 344 (2013). 

[3] T.K. Logan, L. Shannon, J. Cole, Stalking Victimization in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence. Violence Victims, Vol. 22, 669-83 (2007).

[4] Josh Kovner, Domestic Violence Offenders to Be Tracked Again, The Hartford Courant (Jun. 29, 2012), http://articles.courant.com/2012-06-13/news/hc-domestic-violence-gps-0614-20120613_1_gps-device-alvin-notice-tiana-notice.

[5] National Network to End Domestic Violence Safety Net Project, GPS Monitoring of Offenders (2010), http://nnedv.org/downloads/SafetyNet/OVW/NNEDV_GPSMonitoring_Tipsheet_2011.pdf.




Increasing Survivor Safety and Offender Accountability
Through Court Watch Programs 

On a daily basis, people volunteer to observe protective order hearings in Montgomery County, Maryland. Thirty volunteers are part of the Court Watch Montgomery (CWM) program. They record observations on a standardized form for each relevant case in District and Circuit Court gathering information such as judicial, interpreter and baliff demeanor, efficiency of the courtroom, whether courthouse exits are accomplished in a safe manner and if the judge reminds respondents it is a crime to violate a protective order. Collecting this information allows CWM staff to pinpoint systemic problems and gaps in the protective order system that can place victims of domestic violence at risk.

CWM Executive Director Laurie Duker established Court Watch in Montgomery County in an effort to increase domestic violence victim safety by improving the protective order process in the county courts. As a former victim advocate, Ms. Duker saw systemic problems that left victims vulnerable and failed to hold offenders accountable. CWM sought to identify key areas needing improvement in the protective order process using hard data and monitoring of hearings.

CWM uses a transparent process when monitoring the protective order proceedings. The organization shares their monitoring practices and areas of focus with judges and court administrators in advance. This provides all stakeholders with a clear understanding of the monitoring process.

Several issues were identified in the initial monitoring. CWM found that few judges regularly offered a thorough introductory explanation of the protection order proceedings and the meaning of legal terms used. In addition, the introductory statements provided by the judges varied considerably in content. There was also a failure to provide translation of the introductory statements leaving parties who did not speak English without vital information. It became evident in observing court proceedings that pro se parties were not consistently obtaining a clear explanation of legal proceedings. Having observed the systemic problems and gaps firsthand, CWM staff compiled the data, developed findings and proposed recommendations after comparing local practices to those recommended as best domestic violence protective order practices by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Reports were distributed to court personnel and the judiciary as well as to press, community groups, county departments that handle domestic violence issues and elected officials. The individual names of judges were not used in public reports but were provided to the judges, who voiced interest in seeing their personal profiles. Many judges told the administrative judge that the report provided useful feedback, which is generally unavailable.

Numerous changes occurred as a result of CMW's three reports to date. Court personnel took the initiative to produce an introductory audio recording in English and Spanish. Parties now hear an introductory statement of 15 minutes before the judge takes the bench that provides a clear and concise overview of the protective order process in language that a layperson understands. Staggered exits (a national best practice) were implemented within 24 hours of the first report and use rates rose dramatically in the following year. The rates at which judges told respondents it is a crime to violate a protective order and ordered respondents to turn in any firearms rose significantly.

The results of CWM's successful efforts have led other programs to express an interest in starting court watch programs in their jurisdictions. To learn more about CWM's work and obtain assistance, please visit their website by clicking here.



The Hope Card Project: 
Addressing Protection Order Enforcement Issues

In 2004, John Oliveira, a former Special Agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in collaboration with the Crow Nation of Montana, created the Purple Feather Campaign.  Over time, the project expanded statewide and became known as the Hope Card Project. The Hope Card sought to address several issues that hindered protection order enforcement, particularly for protection orders issued by tribal courts. These problems included failure to recognize and enforce valid orders, the inability to locate or decipher critical data on the order, and the inability to review lost or damaged pages of an order.

The Hope Card allows anyone who has a non-temporary valid civil protection order to obtain a Hope Card that summarizes the protection order’s critical information. A Hope Card is not a substitute for the protection order; it offers victims a durable and convenient means of carrying pertinent information regarding an existing order. The design of the Card combines law enforcement’s immediate need for information in response to a domestic violence incident with a victim’s need for safety, convenience, and wraparound services.

The Card uses a standard format, shape, and size that make it easily identifiable by law enforcement. Approximately the shape and size of a credit card, the Hope Card is made of sturdy plastic. Its size and durable surface allow it to be easily carried and concealed by the survivor without the burden of having a multi-page paper order that could be lost or damaged.

The Card displays essential protection order data in a concise and easy-to-read format. Each Card contains the issuance and expiration dates, information about the issuing court, and identifying information on any other protected parties. The opposite side of the Card lists identifying characteristics of the Respondent, including a photograph, when available. It also includes specific terms of the order.

The Hope Card is a valuable tool in assisting first responders. When responding to potential protection order violations, the Hope Card’s design provides law enforcement with critical information on the parties and the order without having to decipher or search through numerous pages. At the scene of a domestic violence incident, law enforcement should use the card as a reference to the original protection order.


Frequently victims of domestic violence face economic challenges when leaving abusive situations. To address this, there has been discussion about expanding the Hope Card Project to provide economic resources to Card recipients fleeing abusive relationships. The Hope Card creator, John Oliveira, is seeking to expand the project by collaborating with local governments, businesses, and non-profit agencies to create a voucher-based debit card function for the Card. If the project were expanded, the Card would be used as a voucher for survivors to obtain emergency services such as lodging, meals, transportation, and medical care.  Survivors would be able to get immediate services conveniently and discreetly by presenting the Card to participating organizations. 

The Crow Nation was the first tribe to use what became the Hope Card and the State of Montana was the first state to implement it.   With the assistance of that state’s Office of Victim Services (OVS), the Hope Card Project continues to thrive. The states of Indiana and Idaho now issue the Hope Card as well. Several other jurisdictions are considering implementation of the program. Montana OVS provides technical assistance to those interested in implementing the Hope Card Project.

If your jurisdiction is interested in the Hope Card or to receive technical assistance contact:

Joan Eliel
Montana Hope Card Program Administrator 
Office of Victim Services, Department of Justice
2225 11th Avenue
P.O. Box 201410
Helena, MT 59620-1410
Phone:  (866) 722-9311 or (406) 444-5803
Fax:  (406) 444-9680
Email:  HopeCard@mt.gov
Website:  https://doj.mt.gov/victims/hope-cards/

 


 

Rose Brooks Center:  Sheltering Victims of Domestic Violence and their Companion Animals



Over a year ago, Rose Brooks Center, a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City, Missouri, became the first program in the region to accept companion pets.  The policy change came about when a domestic violence survivor contacted the hotline seeking shelter but was reluctant to enter the facilities because she would have to leave her beloved family pet. Based on her story, the shelter began to consider allowing pets in their shelter.

In this particular case, the survivor’s pet was an integral part of her survival story. Hank, the survivor’s Great Dane, saved her life when her abuser attacked her with a hammer.  Hank protected her by lying on top of her during the attack, absorbing the majority of the blows.  As a result, he suffered many injuries, including several broken bones. The survivor refused to leave her dog behind to enter shelter. Knowing that the survivor would not leave the dangerous situation without her companion, the shelter agreed to house the dog.

Pet safety is an important issue for survivors of domestic violence who own pets.  First, frequently survivors and pets are both victims of domestic abuse.  Second, many batterers abuse family pets as a means of intimidation and as a precursor to abuse of their intimate partner.  Countless survivors similar to Hank’s owner fear leaving an abusive relationship out of concern for the safety of their pet.

Rose Brooks Center always recognized pet safety as an important issue for survivors of domestic violence.  They have established a long history of working with local animal shelters to provide emergency housing to pets belonging to survivors in their shelter program.  Although they were crucial partners in housing pets of domestic violence survivors, the animal shelters were not always able to meet the needs of Rose Brooks’ clients and their pets.  During economic downturns, many of the animal shelters were unable to accommodate the survivors’ pets because of high demand for space. In other instances, survivors were reluctant to separate from their pets, especially after experiencing a traumatic incident together.

The shelter received countless calls over the years from survivors who desired to leave their abusive situations but remained because they feared their abuser would injure or kill the family pet.  Some victims lived in their cars with their pets for months rather than go into a shelter that did not allow them to bring their animals. Rose Brooks Center found this dilemma unacceptable and sought to do something about it. They created a safe place to which the entire family, including pets, can escape.  Hank, the 110-pound Great Dane, became the first of many companion pets Rose Brooks Center would shelter.

Rose Brooks Center created a mini pilot program to test the feasibility of housing pets on site. The shelter collaborated with other successful programs throughout the country to develop the pet program. Staff converted a small restroom in the basement into a makeshift animal shelter to allow one family at a time to keep their pet.  Working together, staff and the survivor ensured the pet’s needs were met while at the shelter.

Rose Brooks Center believes housing pets in the shelter is one way of helping to remove another barrier a survivor faces when trying to escape violence.  Pets are often emotional companions for survivors of domestic violence and their children.  The Center recognized that the amazing therapeutic benefit a pet has on a survivor and their family significantly outweigh the financial cost and any inconvenience in sheltering the animals. The program has allowed survivors and their families to find safety for themselves and their pets instead of staying in what otherwise would be a dangerous situation. Since the creation of the pet program in 2011, over thirty-six animals have lived in the shelter. The shelter is looking to expand its pet program to house up to eight pets at a time in the near future. (Paws Place, Rose Brooks Center’s pet shelter, opened in June 2012 and can house up to eight pets at a time.  It has been full since the day it opened.)

To learn more about the Rose Brooks Center pet shelter program please click here:  https://www.rosebrooks.org/forms/pet-shelter.html



 

This online resource is meant to build on the promising practices provided in Enforcing Domestic Violence Firearm Prohibitions: A Report on Promising Practices. The report was the result of the collective efforts of many dedicated advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and other concerned individuals. This material provides information on different jurisdictions as well as new ideas to remove firearms from the possession of prohibited batterers. This is by no means an exhaustive compilation of all the successful practices so many are working to employ across our country. 

Included at the end of each section are the names of the practitioners in each jurisdiction who gave generously of their time and expertise, and who shared their materials, experiences and advice with us. We are grateful to them for their dedication to this issue, and for agreeing to share with other practitioners what they have learned while working to disarm abusers. NCPOFFC will periodically post updates on new practices here. To review Enforcing Domestic Violence Firearm Prohibitions: A Report on Promising Practices click here.

 



El P
aso, Texas: A Coordinated Effort to Remove
Firearms from Domestic Abusers

A coordinated response to firearm removal can increase the efficiency of a jurisdiction’s surrender procedures. The El Paso community came together to address the safety of victims and law enforcement encountering intimate partner violence situations. El Paso’s labor resulted in a guide of multidisciplinary protocols of firearm surrender that may be adapted to meet the removal goals of many jurisdictions.

In May of 2005, to address the issue of removing firearms from domestic violence abusers and reducing the use of these weapons in family violence incidents, the 388th Judicial District Court of El Paso, Texas convened the Domestic Violence Firearm Surrender Advisory Committee. The catalyst for El Paso initiating a community coordinated effort to remove firearms from batterers was the fatal shooting of a law enforcement officer responding to an early morning family violence call. This committee focused on the large number of domestic violence related incidents reported, the role firearms play in domestic violence situations, and understanding firearms increase danger for victims and those responding to requests for assistance.

 
Led by Judge Patricia A. Macias, this multidisciplinary committee of professionals representing courts, federal and local law enforcement, prosecutors, attorneys, advocates, a local military installation and area colleges addressed the issue of removal of firearms and domestic violence. From this group effort, the Domestic Violence Firearm Surrender Protocols Project was created. 

While the Texas Family Code and the Texas Penal Code both have statutes which may bar possession of a firearm by an individual who has committed an act of family violence, implementing the effects of those statutes can be challenging. To reduce serious injury and fatalities the Advisory Committee recognized the need to create a strategy that included removing firearms from the hands of batterers through the use of effective firearm surrender protocols. The Committee addressed removal of firearms at the scene of an incident, issuing an order to surrender, storage and return of firearms, and the coordination of agencies. With a commitment to communication, consistency and collaboration by the system actors, the Advisory Committee knew these would be successful protocols for firearm surrender. 

The Advisory Committee worked for three years to create policies they believed would achieve the results they desired. The focus areas were: at-the-scene firearm surrender, administrative retrieval and transfer of firearms by respondents, storage and reacquisition of firearms, destruction of weapons, ability to notify officials of unlawful possession, and victim notification of a motion to retrieve firearms. Protocols and corresponding forms were created to address law enforcement retrieval, respondent relinquishment and storage and return of firearms, interagency coordination and community support. 

In 2007, El Paso implemented these protocols as a pilot program. The following elements were recognized by the Advisory Committee as essential for a successful program: judicial leadership, setting common goals, collaboration and coordination, personnel and resources, research and evaluation, and training. Examples of the protocols include:
  1. Judicial inquiry on possession of firearms.
  2. Advocates explaining the Firearm Surrender Initiative to victims and provide additional information on risk factors.
  3. If the respondent fails to surrender firearms after a protection order has been issued, the county attorney will take appropriate compliance action.
  4. Victims are notified of the pending return of firearms.
The 388th Judicial District Court Domestic Violence Firearms Surrender Summit was held in El Paso Summer 2011. This gathering convened the multi-disciplinary partners to introduce the completed 388th Judicial District Domestic Violence Firearms Surrender Protocols Project Replication Manual. It also serves as a replication manual, as well as a resource for other communities seeking to implement similar systems. The protocols have had such a positive effect that other jurisdictions have begun to tailor or “replicate” the El Paso protocols to meet their needs.

Judge Macias and other representatives from El Paso, through the Texas Office of Court Administration, offer information and assistance on the implementation of the replication manual to other jurisdictions in Texas. The guide they created has been applied to varying court systems and localities. Its versatility allows for application to civil and criminal court systems, and its discipline specific protocols for attorneys, law enforcement, educational institutions and federal partners have been applied with success in neighboring communities. While there is still work to be done, El Paso is leading by example and assisting others in creating systems that will meet the needs of their communities.

For a copy of El Paso’s Domestic Violence Firearms Surrender Protocols Project Replication Manual please click here.

 

 


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