AP NEWS

Spokane County sees increase in domestic violence cases

November 17, 2019

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Spokane County is seeing an increase in people seeking legal protection orders because of domestic violence and authorities are trying a new program to speed up and improve police response in the field, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Every month for the past several months, the number of people seeking legal protection orders has reached more than 500 as compared to a previous average of 300 a month, The Spokesman-Review reported. Authorities aren’t sure why protection orders are increasing in the county.

About a year ago, the Spokane County Clerk’s Office launched a program to more quickly send details of court-approved protection orders to the Spokane Police Department Records Division, which sends the information to regional law enforcement agencies.

“It’s now in relative real time,” said Timothy Fitzgerald, Spokane County clerk. “Before, it would have been hours.”

Law enforcement officers need to know about legal orders for victim safety if they’re responding to new incidents the same day or serving documents to individuals, he said.

“The county sees that increase in cases,” Fitzgerald said. “Twelve months ago, we could see a trend and the fact that information wasn’t getting to police records as fast as it should. When a squad car goes out on a scene, they’re counting on police records on what a legal protection order states.

“The order states things like who is supposed to be in the home and who’s not supposed to be there. Is there a history of violence? Are there firearms in the house? There are a lot of factors.”

He said the clerk’s office in late 2018 implemented an overall new computer case management system to enter court action into the state legal system. The update replaced a 40-year-old case management system, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald’s office used to hand-carry the approved protection orders to police records at the end of each day, but now the system alerts officers in real time electronically.

Spokane County Commissioners provided temporary funding for the protection order program, and it covers the cost of two employees who enter the information for law enforcement records. Fitzgerald said he will seek permanent funding for the program.

When a protection order is served to someone, information also is included on whether the person has made threats against law enforcement or might have a weapon, said Sgt. Jordan Ferguson of the Spokane Police Department. He works in the domestic violence unit.

A shorter time frame is key, Ferguson added.

“There’s that little window where the victim may finally get that order and now law enforcement needs to get him served so he can obey the provisions in the order,” Ferguson said.

“With the old system, that might have sat on a desk in a court until the end of the day, so she’d be hiding in her basement and call for help, and law enforcement’s response would be, ‘We don’t have an order.’ ”

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com