An innovative collaboration between the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the West Virginia State Police, the FBI, and more than two dozen other state, federal, and private entities
is responsible for the creation of West Virginia's Domestic Violence Registry and Statewide Database, announced today during an event in the Supreme Court Chamber.
"It has taken years to reach this point, and many people in a number of agencies are to be commended," said Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin. "This type of collaboration is a hallmark of our Twenty-First Century Court system."
The Registry is a tool used to communicate domestic violence protective orders to law enforcement. It will enhance the enforcement of those protective orders by providing law enforcement officers the most up-to-date information on a court's actions. The information will be available through the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC.
An advisory team helped develop the Registry. Their work, and the technology necessary to make the Registry a reality, was paid for largely with a Grant to Encourage Arrest and Enforcement of Protective Orders from the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.
This Registry is so incredibly important, said Marshall County Sheriff John Gruzinskas. If there was one thing that you could point your finger at and say that this will save someone s life, it will be the Registry.
The Registry will allow a law enforcement officer to know whether a current protective order is in effect as that officer responds to a call, enhancing the safety of both the officer and the potential victim. The database that supports the Registry will have a scanned copy of the actual protective order, so there will be no confusion about what it actually says, who issued it, and whether it is still in effect.
In our opinion, it will help victims of domestic violence by giving law enforcement better knowledge and response time, said Lynn Atkinson, the mother of a woman who was killed by her boyfriend. This may help to ensure that no one else goes through what we have been through.
Magistrate Court staff are scanning domestic violence protective orders into the database within minutes of when they are issued by a court. Family Court staff eventually also will scan orders issued by Family Court Judges.
Each night, the computer system pulls those new orders, formats them, and submits them through the West Virginia State Police into the National Crime Information Center. Law enforcement officers nationwide have access to that system. When an officer in the field runs a name through the NCIC and there is a hit for a protective order, the officer is required to confirm the data from the original source within ten minutes. Because West Virginia Courthouses are not open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, it was not previously possible to confirm a hit for a protective order. Now officers in West Virginia State Police detachments are able to access the scanned image of the actual protective order and confirm its existence and effective date. Because detachments are open around the clock, they can do that around the clock.
With the implementation of the Domestic Violence Registry, Troopers and officers responding to domestic violence incidents will have another tool to help make informed and timely decisions regarding the appropriate enforcement action to take to ensure the safety of all parties involved, said Michael Corsaro, West Virginia State Police Criminal Records Director.
The Registry will provide immediate access to the orders issued in West Virginia not only to our officers, but will provide national access through the NCIC system.
The Registry currently is fully operational in nine counties: Clay, Grant, Hardy, Jackson, Monongalia, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers, and Wayne. Those counties are submitting domestic violence protective order data through the State Police to the NCIC. All the counties' data is being accepted at a rate of 95 percent, meaning the state has only a five percent first-time error rate. When data is rejected because of an error, Domestic Violence Data Manager Jeremy Nagy works with the county to make the necessary corrections and the protective order is resubmitted to the NCIC.
Additional counties are being added to the system each week as they complete training, update equipment, and meet a ninety-percent error-rate threshold, which is mandatory. All counties are expected to be a part of the system by this fall.
As counties are added, and after the system is fully functional, all court records will be validated every thirty days to make sure information in the database is current.
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said, We think we have pretty much one hundred percent commitment from magistrates and their staff to scan orders into the system as soon as a magistrate signs an order.
"The FBI congratulates the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the West Virginia State Police on joining the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Protection Order File, and for the innovative collaboration and unique approach and dedication brought to this project," said Thomas E. Bush, III, Assistant Director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI.
"The ability to have instant access to discover and verify a protection order twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week nationwide saves lives in countless ways every day, including stopping the sale of a firearm to prohibited individuals and providing officers an early warning about violent individuals before encountering them face-to-face. The NCIC and the West Virginia Registry represents the very best kind of state and federal partnership," Mr. Bush said.
U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller said, "Domestic violence is a serious problem in our society, and the introduction of a firearm into these situations greatly elevates the potential for a horrible tragedy.
"We protect the Constitutional right to own firearms best by moving vigorously against those who have lost that right and who use a gun in domestic violence and other criminal activity. The Domestic Violence Registry will serve as a vital tool to help protect domestic violence victims and to provide for the safety of police officers," said Mr. Miller, who is the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of West Virginia.
"The Domestic Violence Registry has been a long time in the making," said Melissa B. Crawford, a Planning Specialist with the West Virginia Prevention Resource Center. "I am so proud to have been a part of the team of professionals who caused this to happen, a team of professionals who set aside their differences to work together in order to provide safety for victims of domestic violence. Not only does the Registry give victims the assurance that their domestic violence orders will be enforced wherever they may be, but it gives law enforcement one more tool to use in combating domestic violence."
Tonia Thomas of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence said, "The Registry is an additional resource that will provide law enforcement officers and Court personnel with additional tools to protect domestic violence victims and survivors. Denial keeps women from reporting incidents. Sixty percent of women who are beaten fail to acknowledge it will happen again. Major emphasis should be to educate and urge victims to seek help, said Sue Ann Zickefoose, a member of the committee that worked on establishing the Registry.
"It is great to see the very intricate and often complicated Registry come to fruition. It took a lot of dedicated people sitting around the table for numerous meetings to make it all happen," Ms. Thomas said. "I am not sure if the Registry would have been developed without the leadership of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals."
Chief Justice Benjamin said, "The Supreme Court's Administrative Office staff, especially Court Services Director Angela Saunders and Director of Family Court Services Lisa Tackett have worked long hours to make this Registry a reality. Every time there was a roadblock, they found a way around it.
"This work would not have been possible without the leadership and vision of Administrative Director Steve Canterbury, who made this project a priority,"
Chief Justice Benjamin said. We re deeply indebted to all of the hard work which produced this important Registry. Mrs. Saunders said, It has been a long, complicated struggle, but it is here. We hope that it will help law enforcement save lives.
This is by far the most important project I ve ever worked on in my career, because this project might make a difference in a victim s life, Mrs. Saunders said. Throughout this event, I looked at the 8x10 picture of a young victim laying beside the podium and I kept thinking if this project helps law enforcement save just one life just one, this will be worth it.
The Legislature in 2001 directed the West Virginia State Police to create an automated, statewide Registry of domestic violence protective orders. Work was hindered by a lack of funding and dedicated staff, and problems developing technology. Work on the domestic violence Registry took on a new life after Mr.
Canterbury became the Administrative Director in 2005, leading to legislation enabling the Supreme Court Administrative Office to house the database. That legislation was effective June 6, 2008.
The Court Services Division and its Domestic Violence Planning and Evaluation Committee, including a representative from the State Police, redirected funding to address issues identified from a status assessment Mrs. Saunders, the project director, completed in 2005. One problem was that the Court s data was being pulled from an outdated DOS-based system, which created technology difficulties.
The incompatibility of the court and State Police computer systems compounded the problem.
A number of other issues were identified, such as the need for technology updates, the need for training, and a need for dedicated staff, among others. It soon became clear that the project could not be supported solely by the limited funding that had been redirected from the Court s portion of a Violence Against Women grant.
The Domestic Violence Committee and court staff began searching for other grant funding. In the meantime, under Mr. Canterbury s direction, the Court continued a massive restructuring of the West Virginia court system computers, beginning with the magistrate system, which is the main system that houses protective order data.
In preparation to apply for the Grants to Encourage Arrest and Enforcement of Protective Orders grant, a three-member team from West Virginia attended the Domestic Violence and Firearms: A National Summit for Community Safety in Los Angeles in September 2006. The team consisted of Ms. Tackett; Ms. Thomas; and Larry Nelson of the West Virginia Regional Community Policing Institute.
That team came back to West Virginia with a renewed vision of what the Domestic Violence Registry could become and a renewed interest in working with federal, state, and local agencies, and in getting funding to make it a reality.
The Court wrote the grant proposal, which included a memorandum of understanding signed by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the West Virginia State Police, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the West Virginia Regional Community Policing Institute, and the West Virginia Division of Criminal Justice Services. The Court staff then invited other partners to collaborate.
The $815,000 grant, which the Supreme Court received a year later, purchased the technology for the Registry and provided funding for training in its use. It also provided funding to hire a full-time data manager, Mr. Nagy, and a full-time programmer, Validation Specialist Sandy Hathaway. Developers and consultants include Mark Starcher, David Coffee, and Mark Fowler. Ms. Tackett serves as the project's counsel.
At the press conference, Ms. Tackett noted that the grant also is funding a series of Firearms Task Force Regional Summits.
The first regional summit was held in September 2008 at Tamarack. The other regional summits will be in April at Cacapon State Park, the Charleston Marriott, Wheeling s Oglebay State Park, and the Bridgeport Conference Center. All are modeled after the Los Angeles conference. They will include sessions on domestic violence and firearms laws, enforcement of protective orders, how law enforcement should respond to domestic violence calls, and of course how to use the Registry, among other topics. A statewide conference will be held in Charleston in September 2009.
The grant also provides funding for ten circuit judges, ten family court judges, and ten magistrates to attend national training on domestic violence.
In addition to the federal money from the grant, the Court is providing $165,000 in matching funds and has hired a liaison to work with the State Police and court staff to ensure necessary technology updates occur as well as to assist directly with any technical issues surrounding system compatibility. The Court also has several upper-level staff dedicated to the project.
Agencies represented on the Domestic Violence Registry Committee include the U.S. Attorney s Office; FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; United States Probation Office; The West Virginia State Bar; Legal Aid of West Virginia; Prosecuting Attorney s Institute; West Virginia Division of Criminal Justice Services; West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles; West Virginia Office of Homeland Security; West Virginia Division of Natural Resources; West Virginia State Police; Regional Community Police Institute; West Virginia Sheriff s Association; Chiefs of Police Association; Public Defender Services; Coalition Against Domestic Violence; West Virginia Prevention Resource Center; West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services; Fayette County Sheriff s Department; Kanawha County Sheriff s Department; Kanawha County Clerk s Office; Kanawha County Magistrate s Office; Marshall County Sheriff s Department; Mason County Magistrate s Office; Monongalia County Magistrate Clerk s Office; Ohio County Probation Office; Putnam County Sheriff s Department; Putnam County Domestic Violence Advocate; Raleigh County Family Court Judge s Office; and the Charleston Police Department.