Abuse database helps cops

A private, nonprofit Pennsylvania group has created a secure, statewideInternet database of protection orders with the full text of the documents.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (www.pcadv.org),the first such state coalition in the country, launched the Protection fromAbuse Database (PFAD), in March 1999. Authorized users — police, prosecutors,defense attorneys, court officials and domestic violence advocates — canview an entire case history online, including orders filed, pleadings, statusand other documents without searching for a paper version.

Susan Emmons, a senior attorney with the group, said she wasn't awareof another state database that contained the full text of active and archivedmaterial of a domestic violence case. She and several colleagues presenteda session on how and why the database was created at the National Centerfor State Courts conference in Baltimore Aug. 14.

She said PFAD (www.pfad.org) is designed to complement,not replace, the Pennsylvania State Police's protection order registry.The state police database is similar in format to the FBI's National CrimeInformation Center (NCIC) automated system, which is the closest thing toa national repository of protection orders.

But by providing the full text of the protection from abuse order, orPFA as it's known in the state, Emmons said it could possibly save a lifeduring a threatening situation.

For example, police responding to a domestic abuse situation could callup the PFA order on a laptop computer in the patrol car or request a dispatcherto access it. They could see what relief the court ordered in the case,such as whether the defendant was evicted from a dwelling, whether the defendantowned a weapon, or who received temporary custody of the children. Officerscould make decisions on the spot, without having to go back and search forthe paper document, she said.

The system, developed with a $2.2 million federal grant, is voluntaryfor counties. So far, more than 40 out of a total of 67 counties are participatingin the two-year program. The system has more than 2,000 authorized usersand contains a database of more than 41,000 PFAs.

The coalition provides training to county officials when they decideto join the system and technical support during regular hours on weekdays.

Emmons said the group would like to integrate PFAD with other states'protection order databases, but other states don't have full text, are notWeb-based and their security protections are not up to par with PFAD. Fornow, she said the NCIC system represents the best national resource.

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