Sheriff adds 3rd shift

Manpower reallocated in effort to serve all `peace orders'

November 04, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

The Howard County Sheriff's Office has added a third shift and reallocated manpower in an effort to serve all "peace orders" issued against alleged perpetrators of domestic violence.

From January 2006 through September, one of every five peace orders issued by the county's judicial system was not served by the sheriff's office or Police Department.

Of the 1,035 peace orders issued during the 21-month period, 211 did not reach the intended persons, according to Sheriff's Office statistics.

About two-thirds of the unserved orders are interim ones, which are issued when the courts are closed. They expire at the time a judge is scheduled to hear the allegations and determine whether a temporary or final peace order is warranted.

Peace orders can require an aggressor - someone who is not related to and typically not residing with the victim - to stop the abuse, threats or contact and to stay away from the victim's work, home or school.

When interim orders are not served in time for a scheduled court hearing, the victims' ability to obtain a final order is delayed and often requires an extra visit to District Court.

Final orders can ban all contact for up to six months and require the abuser, stalker or harasser to undergo counseling or mediation.

Howard County Sheriff James N. Fitzgerald, who has primary responsibility for delivery of the orders, said that he added a third shift last week to ease the burden on the Police Department and get all peace orders delivered.

Police officers are responsible for serving domestic violence-related orders issued when the sheriff's office is closed between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays and at all hours on weekends.

Sheriff's deputies are now available around the clock five days a week to deliver the orders, but the increase - a pilot program - will last only one or two months, Fitzgerald said. The program began Oct. 28 and is possible only because Fitzgerald found "wiggle room" in his budget, he said.

"The Police Department has other things to do in the middle of the night, but at that hour, we don't," said Fitzgerald, whose office primarily serves the Circuit Court, which is not open at night or on weekends. "The rate of service should go up, otherwise I'll know my guys are goofing off."

Limited staffing and hours of operation are not the only reasons the sheriff's office is struggling with the delivery of peace orders, Fitzgerald said.

Unlike protective orders, peace orders are filed against neighbors, co-workers and boyfriends and girlfriends - people who are not related and have not lived with the victim for more than three months within the past year.

To find an aggressor quickly, which is necessary if an interim order is to be served before a hearing, the victims must provide law enforcement with the abuser's birth date and Social Security number, which they often do not know.

"Do you know your neighbor's Social Security number, what kind of car they drive or where they work?" Fitzgerald said. "I don't even know if I know my wife's Social Security number."

Sheriff's deputies or police officers are attempting to deliver every peace order, he said, but if victims provide inaccurate or incomplete information about abusers, it is much more difficult.

"We're going to see what we can achieve," Fitzgerald said. If delivery rates improve, "I'm going to go to the county executive and ask for more deputies. Hopefully, the County Council will support the effort and ante up more money. Domestic violence should be a priority within county government."

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