Washington Implements Life-Saving Alert System for Domestic Violence Victims

Addressing a matter that many victims consider to be one of life and death, Washington state will be the first in the nation to alert domestic abuse victims when their abuser attempts to illegally buy a firearm. The program is free, anonymous, and provides life-saving information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Federal law prohibits offenders with a misdemeanor or final protective order from purchasing firearms in the United States. Laws against the crime, also referred to as “lie and try,” were egregiously unenforceable because previous state laws did not require gun salesmen to report failed background checks to authorities.

According to an article from The Trace, over 3,000 of these cases were overlooked in Washington in 2016. The new Washington Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification Service (WA SAVIN) requires all failed attempted purchases of firearms to be reported to Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs for further investigation.

The new program is operated by VINELink, a system already widely used to alert victims of protection order statuses. Notifications are sent to registered victims via email and phone calls within 30 minutes of the “lie and try” sale.

Femicide, the homicide of women, is driven heavily by gun violence. American Progress reported in 2014 that 55% of women killed by intimate partners from 2001 to 2012 were killed by the use of guns. The report also showed U.S. women are 11 times more likely to die from gun-related injuries than women in any other high-income country.

Further research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information indicates abusers with access to a gun are almost twice as likely to commit murder than those who are publically denied use of firearms. Alerting victims when such attempts are made gives them the vital information and time needed to protect themselves and those closest to them.

To register for the new alert system, Washington residents need only visit www.vinelink.com or call 1-877-846-3492. They must know either the last name or birth date of the abuser they wish to track. They will then be prompted to provide their phone number, email address, and to create a secure personal ID number. For additional protection, further personal information is not required, and victims will automatically begin to receive these crucial notifications. More information on the system is available on the program web page

Stearns County Sees Record Results with Intervention Court

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The cardboard cutouts represent women killed by domestic violence. 

A court in a small  county of 150,000 people, Stearns Central Minnesota, has been recognized as a “national expert in both the prevention and prosecution” of domestic violence  by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.

The county is home to the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court , a court whose main goal is to prevent homicide by monitoring repeat domestic violence offenders. The court uses a two-pronged approach to address the issue. The court holds the offenders accountable with weekly hearings and a special surveillance officer that monitors the offenders’ whereabouts. Simultaneously, the court provides an array of support services for the victims to help ensure their trust and safety. According to its website, the court “supervises a core group of the most dangerous repeat felony domestic violence offenders with close judicial and probationary supervision enforced by strict conditions of release, surveillance, weekly offender accountability check-ins directly to the court and utilizing an extended slate of victim support services to enhance victim safety.”

The DOJ office awarded the county training grants to brief other agencies across the country on the innovative practices used in the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court. Created in 2008 the court has received over $1,000,000 in grants to support its work.

The Stearns County Attorney, Janelle Kendall, created the court six years ago while looking for a way to control jail-crowding and prevent homicide. In 2008, seven out of eight of reported homicide cases in her jurisdiction were domestic related. After some internal research and conversations with other law enforcement officials, Kendall determined the best way to prevent homicide in the area was to address  and intervene in the lives of repeat domestic violence offenders with a “specialized team of domestic violence-trained professionals.”  The addition of a surveillance expert to monitor the offenders and ensure they are following the rules given by the court has been the key ingredient for the court’s success. The “unarmed but experienced investigator,” Bill Nelson, spends his days tracking and randomly checking in on the offenders to confirm they are not stalking their victims.

Options for pre-trial release supervision for felony repeat offenders include the following:

  • Electronic Home Monitoring Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Domestic Abuse No Contact Order Enforcement
  • Mandatory Weekly Compliance Hearings
  • Daily Schedule and Curfew Enforcement
  • Supervision and Surveillance

According to Jim Hughes, Chief of Police in Sartell, Minnesota, they have been “seeing a lot of great change.” 

“In three full years of operation, the population of repeat offenders (136 total) has committed only five new domestic assaults. Prior to the court there were on average three felony assault arrests a year per defendant,’’ according to information on the program from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

– StarTribune Editorial Board,  6/3/13