A $1 million overhaul in how protective orders are filed in Minnesota courts could save the lives of domestic violence victims.
The new system, a year in the making and unveiled this week by the judicial branch, replaces an outdated one that maintained separate databases for orders for protection or court-ordered signoffs demanding that domestic abusers stay away from their victims.
The changes allow real-time sharing of information between the courts and law enforcement agencies. Now, police can pull up specific details of a protective order on demand — eliminating confusion for a faster, more efficient response in potentially dire situations.
“It can be a matter of life or death in some circumstances,” said Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke, whose district covers the state’s arrowhead region, including St. Louis County. “We know from research that the most dangerous time regarding order for protection tends to center around separation.”
Floerke said there are about 10,000 orders filed in the state each year. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW) reported that in 2015 two of the female victims of domestic violence homicide had received an order for protection against the perpetrator in the past.
MCBW Program Manager Safia Khan said seven of the 22 men who killed their current or former female partner in 2015 had an order for protection sought against them in the past.
The more time spent looking for an order for protection or the conditions, the more dangerous a situation can be, Khan said.
In one case, police officers had to contact multiple sources to find information about a protective order after a victim called to report that the abuser violated the order, she said.
“Anything could have happened during that time,” Khan said.
Previously, updates on new orders filed in the courts were sent to law enforcement just twice a day, creating a lag in updates.
With the new system, orders are processed immediately and officers can access the entire text of the order at any time from their squad car computers. Victims can also receive an automated e-mail notifying them when a protective order has been served.
Police say the change protects more than just domestic violence victims. Since 2009, at least two Minnesota law enforcement officers were shot and killed while responding to domestic disputes.
“When we have real-time information about the offender, about conditions, about all these different things — ultimately [that] can really help officers make good decisions for their own safety as they respond,” said Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell.
Brooklyn Park police officer Andrew Greeman, who is also a liaison to the city’s domestic violence program, said that for front-line officers who are responding to protection violations and serving orders the new change means “confidently” informing them what conditions are in place.
“The more information we have, the better we can fine-tune how we handle the call,” Greeman said. “It also makes the victim feel safer. The information is so much easier to read and makes our job a bit easier. It’s a positive change from our point of the view.”
Melia Garza, domestic and sexual violence analyst at the judicial branch, said a 2011 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women prompted the new technology.
“This project was really about doing away with the old system,” Garza said. “It’s been a pretty big significant change on our end.”
The project rolled out with tests in Ramsey County in February 2015, followed in June and July in Aitkin, Anoka and Olmsted counties. The state judicial branch then implemented the program to the remaining district courts over the course of a year.
“This is smart government and smart policing and smart community safety initiative,” Schnell said.