Resources: Promising Practices
Increasing Survivor Safety and Offender Accountability
Through Court Watch Programs
On a daily basis, people volunteer to observe protection 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 protection order system that can place victims of domestic violence at risk.
CWM Executive Director Laurie Duker established Court Watch in Montgomery in an effort to increase domestic violence victim safety by improving the protection 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 protection order process using hard data and monitor descriptions of hearings.
CWM uses a transparent process when monitoring the protection 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:
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
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.)
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
El Paso, 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:
- Judicial inquiry on possession of firearms.
- Advocates explaining the Firearm Surrender Initiative to victims and provide additional information on risk factors.
- If the respondent fails to surrender firearms after a protection order has been issued, the county attorney will take appropriate compliance action.
- 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