CHARLESTON – West Virginia Supreme Court officials and others on Monday announced the launch of a computer registry that keeps track of domestic violence protective orders.
"This is a very important day for the court," said Steve Canterbury, court administrator.
The registry, which has been in the works for about 18 months, involves a database that includes scanned copies of all protective orders issued by magistrates and family court judges.
When a police officer is in the field and runs a person's name through the National Crime Information Center, if that person has either filed for or is the respondent of a protective order, the police officer will know. Then, the officer will be able to immediately confirm the validity of the order through State Police dispatchers and enforce the order.
Canterbury said this up-to-the-minute information will mean safety for victims, the community and for police officers themselves.
"The more information they have, the better they're able to respond," Canterbury said.
Angie Saunders, director of court services, said the state used a $815,000 federal grant received last year to buy the technology to create the registry and to provide training for court officials, who are charged with scanning in copies of the orders as soon as they are signed.
"It's a tool to communicate the court's actions to law enforcement," Saunders said. "We hope that it will help law enforcement save lives."
So far, there are nine counties that are scanning the orders that are maintained in the registry –Clay, Hardy, Grant, Jackson, Monongalia, Nicholas, Summers and Wayne. Saunders said the other 46 counties should be trained and able to submit the information by the fall.
Once the documents are scanned, the information is channeled through the State Police and entered into NCIC.
Lawmakers in 2001 directed the State Police to create an automated system to keep track of the orders, Saunders said. Last summer, lawmakers passed the enabling legislation that permitted the Supreme Court to create the registry.
Right now, only State Police dispatchers have access to the orders. But Saunders said 911 dispatchers could soon also have access. Saunders indicated that police officers' access to the information at the scene may also improve in the future.
Tim Pack, superintendent of the State Police, said he believes the advisory committee that created the registry has turned out a "very fine product."
"The State Police is very proud to be a part of this," Pack said. "We hope it will have some real effects and bring some real success stories."
Chief Justice Brent Benjamin said of Monday's announcement: "This is truly, truly one of the most important things that has ever occurred in this courtroom."
Benjamin said the registry fits into his initiative of maximizing access to the state's court system for all West Virginians.
Benjamin said in 2007, there were nearly 15,000 domestic violence cases filed in West Virginia. While the increase was relatively slight from five years ago, Benjamin said "any increase in domestic violence is too much."
He called the registry the hallmark of bringing the state's court system into the 21st Century.
Lynn Atkinson from Williamson lost her 22-year-old daughter to domestic violence in 2004. Atkinson said her daughter was killed by an abusive boyfriend.
While Atkinson said the registry wouldn't have helped her daughter because she didn't seek a protective order, she said that victims who do might not come to the same fate.
Atkinson said when her daughter asked her boyfriend to leave the relationship, he went out and bought a gun. If the gun seller had known there was an active protective order against the boyfriend, he would not have been able to purchase the gun.
"I am so grateful that this has taken place," Atkinson said. "There are other things that we have to do to protect women, but this is one huge step."
Some criticized officials for the delay in setting up the registry following the shooting death of Na'lisha Gravely, who was allegedly gunned down by her boyfriend Desmond Clark in a West Side Taco Bell in 2007.
Gravely had an active protective order against Clark, which said he was to have no contact with her. That information would have been useful to the police officer who performed a traffic stop on the couple in Dunbar on the day of the shooting.