System to allow real-time access to protection orders.
A new computer database will put up-to-the-moment information about protective orders in the hands of police across Minnesota, a change officials hope will better protect domestic violence victims.
The state is now using 14-year-old technology that only allows new or modified orders for protection (OFPs) to be disseminated twice a day on weekdays, which can mean hours -- or even a weekend -- can pass before police in the field can access them.
"It's an antiquated system," said Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. "Nobody even makes the replacement parts anymore, that's how old it is."
Minnesota intends to replace the current system in the next six months or so, thanks largely to a $1 million federal grant. The new system will allow court staff to enter the information into a database even as the judge is issuing a protection order.
In addition to being much more nimble, the system will provide officers with more information about a particular OFP and the suspect.
Although no one is claiming the system will prevent domestic violence, providing additional information to police will help sort out confusing situations, say those involved with the new database.
In the days before Teri Lee was killed in 2006, for example, law enforcement officials desperately tried to find the jealous ex-boyfriend who had violated a court order telling him to stay away. Police weren't sure of the parameters of the OFP or whether deputies could go into Wisconsin to arrest Steve Van Keuren at his home.
Two days after violating the order in September 2006, Van Keuren shot and killed Lee and her boyfriend in her home in West Lakeland Township.
"The lack of information added to the confusion," recalled Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association. "The sooner that everybody knows what the rules are, that levels the playing field."
The system also will make it easier for Minnesota's 1,000-plus state and federal criminal justice agencies to communicate with counterparts in other states, as well as with tribal police and tribal courts.
"This is about making communication better," said John Kostouros, director of the State Court Information Office, who said the system will allow better tracking of the roughly 8,000 orders for protection that courts issue each year.
The goal is to provide officers -- whether at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday or at 2 a.m. on a Saturday -- with up-to-date OFP information.
The gap in the current system comes about because outdated technology, installed in 1998, now only allows the transmission of information on orders for protection twice a day, at noon and 5 p.m., from the courts to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
The BCA then has to input the information manually into a federal database so officers and deputies can access it from their squad cars.
That means that if an order for protection is issued late on a Friday afternoon, the information might not be available to officers and deputies until Monday.
Another problem is that if a piece of information -- say, a suspect's date of birth -- is not entered properly or is omitted, the entire file is rejected and is not transmitted to the federal database.
"There is a potential for lag time," said Sara Gonsalves of the Minnesota judicial branch's Court Services Division, who is helping to introduce the new system. "Any type of lag time is a concern."
'An ongoing issue'
That delay, say law enforcement officials and advocates for abused women, can prove dangerous or deadly.
"We don't have the option [now] of real-time service into the court system," said Hastings Police Chief Paul Schnell. "That is one of the challenges."
The real-time transmission of the data being proposed is not being touted as a cure-all, but people working on the system believe it will help.
That capability is already in place for domestic-abuse no-contact orders through the Minnesota Court Information System (MNCIS), an electronic database of public and non-public adult felony and misdemeanor court cases and civil cases, including OFPs.
But the tracking system for OFPs needs upgrading, in part because there is no connectivity between MNCIS and the OFP database, which means personnel in every district court must enter the information into MNCIS and the OFP database.
"We're not shooting for the moon on this, but it's certainly better than twice a day," Gonsalves said. "It's going to result in increased safety for the public" and law enforcement.
Heron Marquez 952-746-3281