From Necessary to Mandatory: Indiana’s Electronic Protection Order Registry
June 30, 2009 by Mary L. DePrez
Members of the Indiana justice community often express the logistical challenges they face in their daily work. Judges, law enforcement officers, and victim advocates over the years have shared their frustration with the paper-based system for processing protection orders—as well as the delays and sometimes, the danger, it caused. Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan, Jr., asked how technology could help courts improve their efforts to curb domestic violence. One answer seemed obvious: process protection orders electronically! Indiana was fortunate because the software developer who had designed Connecticut’s Protection Order Registry, Ben Balke of Etchasoft, already worked for the Judicial Technology and Automation Committee (JTAC). He referred us to the principals at our sister agency in Connecticut, and they generously gave us the Registry software—or in technical speak, the ‘source code’—at no cost.
Laying the Foundation
Between 2002 and 2006, the Indiana Judicial Conference Protection Order Committee worked very hard to improve and clarify the laws regarding protection and no-contact orders and to standardize the corresponding forms for judges to use. These forms incorporated mandatory federal language arising out of the Violence Against Women Act and linked data codes from the Indiana Data and Communication System (IDACS), run by the Indiana State Police, to specific conditions within each order. This was of utmost importance because law enforcement had the legal obligation to enter data from these orders into IDACS on the same day they received them. In turn, the IDACS database is linked to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), making these orders available nationwide.
Although the work to standardize the forms was a huge improvement and laid the necessary groundwork that would make an electronic system possible, the processing and enforcement of protection orders remained the same. There was too much delay between the time the order was issued and the time it was entered into IDACS; or, even worse, the order was never entered into IDACS at all! This could happen, for example, if the Petitioner did not know the Respondent’s date of birth, social security or driver license number, because without this information, it was impossible to get the order into IDACS even though it remained a valid court order. Further, officers could not access the actual orders to read the specific conditions imposed by the judge, or know if the order had been served on the Respondent.
In October 2006, the Department of Justice awarded JTAC a grant to customize the Connecticut system to meet our state’s needs. The Supreme Court established a partnership with the Indiana State Police and began the development of the Protection Order Registry (Registry). The Registry has helped change the paper system that hampered law enforcement efforts.
A 21st Century Solution
The Registry is a web-based application, available to all courts, clerks and law enforcement officers. It is a secure system, and users have individual IDs and passwords. The clerk enters information into the Registry from the Petition and a confidential form. When the court decides that an order of protection should be issued, the judge opens the case in the Registry, creates and prints the order, signs it, and immediately submits the order to IDACS. Because there is a connection, or ‘interface’, between the Registry and IDACS, the judge can send the order to the State Police database before the Petitioner leaves the courthouse. At the same time, the Registry is programmed to automatically send an email or FAX notification to the law enforcement agencies where the parties live and work, as well as any additional court designated agencies. Because the Registry is web-based, law enforcement officers have 24/7 access to information regarding all orders issued throughout Indiana.
Enforcement of the Brady law is another important feature of the Registry. The Brady law is a federal requirement that prohibits the sale or possession of handguns by certain people who have been designated as disqualified under the law. The Registry ensures that notification is sent through IDACS to NCIC when a judge finds in a protection order that an individual is disqualified under the Brady law.
Beginning in 2007, Blackford County Superior Court Judge John W. Forcum and Tippecanoe County Judge Thomas H. Busch were the first to ‘pilot’ the Protective Order Registry. In the months that followed, court after court implemented the Registry. Functionality was built into the application so that prosecutors could enter information needed for no-contact orders in criminal cases. By January 2009, 71 counties were using the electronic Registry and today there are more than 7800 users who also access the Registry.
An Act of Protection
The 2009 Indiana General Assembly recognized the importance of the Registry with the passage of HEA 1578, which requires all counties to use the Registry by July 1, 2009. The Protection Order Registry is one of many different computerized information systems maintained at the state level, and all such systems play an important role in our state and local government. The Protection Order Registry is special because it goes to the heart of why government exists—to protect those of us who are most in need.
Like many other projects in the works at JTAC, the Registry has been highly collaborative across branches and levels of government. Thanks go out to the Indiana State Police for their hard work and cooperation. The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute provided much of the funding required to implement the Registry. The Circuit Court Clerks deserve to be recognized and commended because they undertook the bulk of the data entry work. Judges embraced the use of the Registry recognizing that it was a valuable tool for courts, law enforcement and for the many victims of violent crimes. The judges and clerks on the Protection Order Committee spent many hours providing guidance and direction to the JTAC/POR implementation team. And this team, lead by JTAC’s LaJuan Epperson, worked with thousands of end-users to make the Registry an important tool for Indiana and the entire nation.
Thanks also go to State Representatives: Nancy Dembowski (Knox), Linda Lawson (Hammond), Eric Koch (Bedford), Randy Truitt (Lafayette); State Senators: Edward Charbonneau (Valparaiso), Sue Errington (Muncie), Tim Lanane (Anderson), and Randy Head (Logansport); Marion County Superior Court Judge Timothy W. Oakes; and to Governor Mitch Daniels who all agreed that the Registry was worthy of becoming a mandatory statewide system.