Seminar seeks to increase restraining orders' efficacy

Session is for supervisors of those doing paperwork

February 10, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Poor handwriting, incomplete information, inadequate forms and lack of automation are obstacles that make restraining orders ineffective and give accused abusers the opportunity to purchase handguns, court and law enforcement officials said yesterday.

But the state has taken an initial step toward improving processing to help keep victims safe with its first in a series of training seminars, which began yesterday with a seminar for supervisors of data entry clerks, sheriff's deputies, prosecutors and court employees involved in the paperwork.

"Our work is more than completing paperwork. The paperwork has attached to it real, live victims and real, live children," Twilah Shipley, assistant director of the state Family Violence Council, said at the meeting.

"There is an undeniable link between gun violence and domestic violence," she said. "It is critical that every victim's advocate, data entry operator and attorney recognizes the importance of entry of this information. We must do our best to ensure victim safety."

The meeting at the Maritime Institute of Technology in Linthicum drew about 100 supervisors in law enforcement and from courts throughout the metropolitan area. It came two months after Maryland State Police released audits showing that failure to properly log domestic restraining orders was a problem statewide.

In some cases, the wrong gender, name or race was entered into state and federal databases police use to check criminal history. In one county, protective orders, which last one year, were being listed in the database as ex parte orders, which last seven days.

The issue came into focus in September when Richard Spicknall II allegedly shot and killed his 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

Spicknall, who was the object of a restraining order, was able to purchase the 9mm handgun he is accused of using in the shooting after the order against him was erroneously deleted.

Lisa Fields Spicknall, the children's mother, has dedicated herself to ensuring that protective orders are processed properly. She addressed the supervisors at yesterday's seminar.

Findings from the state police audit showed that one of the main problems in sheriff's offices -- which, in many jurisdictions, are primarily responsible for entering the information -- was a lack of staff to handle the paperwork from the courts.

State police who conduct criminal background checks of people applying to purchase handguns found that information on protective or ex parte orders were often only in court computers that they did not usually access. They have since gained access to many court databases.

Since the shooting and subsequent investigations into backlogs, state police superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell convened a task force to investigate.

The group, which began meeting in November, issued a report in December listing training, funding, and coordination among courts, law enforcement agencies and state government as short-term goals.

The group suggested a computer system integrated for law enforcement and courts officials as a long-term solution.

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