Orders to shield victims decline

Sheriff reports 34% drop in civil protection orders

Temporary version available

Interim document offered on weekends, after hours

Howard County

October 19, 2003|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Sheriff's Office reported last week a 34 percent decline in the number of civil protection orders issued during the first nine months of this year.

But the Sheriff's Office and the Howard County Police Department have been busy serving interim protection orders since a law took effect in December that enables domestic violence victims to ask for the interim orders on nights and weekends.

The interim order is a temporary measure that forbids someone accused of abuse from contacting the person seeking protection for 48 hours. Issued by District Court commissioners after court hours, the order is typically served by police when the Sheriff's Office is closed.

With staunch support from victims' advocates, legislators last year broadened the commissioners' duties to include the issuance of interim orders for victims who sought emergency relief when courts were closed. A regular protection order requires court hearings and is in effect up to one year.

Advocates for victims of domestic violence said Howard's decline in protection orders this year provides only a partial glimpse of the problem in the county, and they cautioned that the winter season typically brings a surge in domestic violence cases.

"Last year, we saw a 31 percent increase in the number of people coming to us for help," said Judy Clancy, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County in Columbia, which offers a 24-hour hot line, shelter to victims and children, legal services and counseling services to victims, children and abusers.

"It really is a tip-of-the-iceberg situation," Clancy said. "The number of people who reach out for help is a relatively small percentage of those who experience violence in the home. It's hard to take the first step. People are very afraid. People are threatened."

In Howard County, the total number of orders received through Sept. 30 - including protection orders, interim orders, peace orders and orders from other jurisdictions - fell 8 percent for the first nine months, from 818 in the same period last year to 749, according to Howard County Sheriff Charles M. Cave.

Cave said his office received 299 protection orders this year, compared with 454 last year. More than three-quarters of the orders were issued in District Court and the rest in Circuit Court, the figures showed.

But his office has processed 69 interim orders this year, the majority of which were served by Howard police. He said his office received 19 last year after the new law went into effect Dec. 18. The majority of people seeking the orders are women, Cave said.

"I still think that there are domestic violence incidents in this county that, for whatever reason, are not being reported," Cave said. "I just feel that there's still a lot of [victims] not coming forward on this, for various reasons."

The civil interim order has also meant more work for District Court commissioners during the past 10 months, "but it's helping the public," said Heather B. Bader, the administrative commissioner who oversees Howard and Carroll counties.

"A lot of times [victims] are happy that they're going to have protection on weekends until they can get in to see a judge on Monday," Bader said.

The hot line for the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County is 410-997-2272.

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