For many struggling to find their way out of an abusive situation, the most uncertain time can be after the matter is taken to court.
Now, in order to help address that uncertainty, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies statewide are taking part in a pilot program that will allow those who have been granted orders of protection by their local family court to register to receive alerts when those orders are served.
New York state lawmakers agreed on a new bill shortly before the end of this year’s legislative session that would have a major impact on domestic violence survivors and perpetrators in the state. The agreement, announced June 11, was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week. The provisions include:
The creation of new felony and misdemeanor crimes and enhancement of penalties for repeat offenders, to take effect 60 to 90 days after the bill becomes law
A requirement for judges to consider certain risk factors when determining recognizance or bail for a defendant who is charged with an offense against a family or household member, including prior violations of orders of protection and access to firearms, to take effect 60 days after the bill becomes law
The establishment of a Fatality Review team to find new ways to reduce intimate partner homicides, to be established 180 days after the bill becomes law
An assurance that domestic violence offenders cannot control the disposition of a victim’s remains, to take effect 30 days after the bill becomes law
Improved safeguards to protect the location of victims, including the use of a substitute mailing address maintained by the Department of State, to take effect immediately
A provision allowing survivors seeking medical and mental health services to have their insurance claims, forms or billing information sent to a confidential addresses rather than the one shared with their abuser, to take effect Jan. 1, 2013
Access to web-based training for law enforcement in topics in domestic violence response, including investigating current and past incidents, collecting evidence, conducting interviews, applying the state’s mandatory arrest and primary physical aggressor provisions, and identifying possible criminal charges
“By strengthening the domestic violence laws, New York is leading the way in protecting victims and prosecuting offenders while demonstrating to the nation that we will not tolerate violence against our families,” Cuomo said.
The law also had the endorsement of Vera House Executive Director Randi Bregman.
“The provisions in this law have been in discussion in one form or another for years,” Bregman said. “We appreciate the legislature and the government’s commitment to trying to create a safer state for victims.”
The Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification Network-New York (SAVIN-NY) system allows victims of domestic violence and other crimes to register through NY-ALERT (nyalert.gov) to receive notifications of service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via text message, e-mail, fax, automated phone call, web query or iAlertz (a free application for the iPhone or iPad). The SAVIN program is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, through the Bureau of Justice Administration (BJA).
“One of the most critical times in terms of an individual subject to abuse is when it rises to the level where court action is taking place,” said Sgt. John D’Eredita, public information officer for the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department. “The notifications allow victims to take the necessary precautions to safeguard themselves knowing that they have this in place.”
According to the New York State Unified Courts System, an order of protection is a document issued by a court to “limit the behavior of someone who harms or threatens to harm another person… [It] may direct the offending person not to injure, threaten or harass you, your family, or any other person(s) listed in the order.” That can include staying away from the person under the order’s protection — the petitioner — as well as that person’s family or home, as well as following certain other directives, such as paying child support, not owning a gun, following a custody order and more. For more on orders of protection, visit nycourts.gov/faq/orderofprotection.shtml.
Once an order of protection is issued by a family court, the SAVIN-NY system can assist victims of domestic violence by providing them with updates as to its status. D’Eredita said it’s particularly important for victims to be aware of the service of the orders, as that can produce volatile behavior in the recipients (also known as respondents).
“As you can imagine, this is a sensitive time stage,” D’Eredita said. “You never know the reaction of the individual who’s being served with the order. In this kind of situation, when they’re served, it very well can turn into another abusive event.”
Now that victims have constant updates, they can be prepared and keep themselves safe.
“This service closes that window of uncertainty for the victim,” D’Eredita said. “Prior to this, they never really knew when service was taking place. But this service gives them 24 hour access to information. It allows them to have some course of action they can take to protect themselves, including calling police knowing order is in place.”
Individuals can register to receive SAVIN-NY alerts by visiting nyalert.gov, and clicking on the “Orders of Protection” box on the left menu. Additional information and frequently asked questions can be found at savin-ny.org.
In order to register, you need to have:
A valid email address
The name of the family court that issued the order
The docket number
The order of protection number
All these can be found on the top of the order of protection.
The program will eventually be expanded to include orders of protection issued in connection with criminal cases.
In addition to Onondaga County, the SAVIN-NY program is active in the following 22 counties: Albany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Nassau, Orange, Ontario, Otsego, Niagara, Rockland, Seneca, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Steuben, Suffolk, Tioga, Washington, Wayne, Westchester and Yates. The lead agency is the New York State Sheriffs’ Institute, working in partnership with NY-Alert, part of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services; NYS Association of Chiefs of Police; NYS Police’s eJusticeNY Integrated Justice Portal; Westchester County Office for Women; NYS Office for Victim Services; NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence; NYS Unified Court System; and NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
For additional information on SAVIN, visit savin-ny.com or savinonline.org
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.