What started as a pilot program in nine counties three years ago is now law statewide.
Gov. David A. Paterson’s recent authorization of the electronic transmission of family court protection orders to law enforcement for service not only made the pilot permanent immediately, but also extended it to the state’s remaining counties. The move is designed to expedite the service process of such orders to enhance victim safety.
“The whole idea was to increase the ability to protect people,” the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, Erie County, said Thursday. “In modern times, you’ve got to use the modern methods. You have to recognize that this is a fast-moving world.”
Prior to the new law, orders were delivered or picked up by police departments or peace officers, then served on the person the order sought protection from. Petitioners also had the option of delivering the orders to police themselves or making other arrangements for service. Volker said that by the time the order was served, enough time could elapse in which another attack could occur.
Now, law enforcement can “get to the heart of it before something happens,” Volker said. “It was something I think needed to be done. Every report we have says it’s a good thing, that it’s worked well.”
The new law amends a section of the Family Court Act and the Domestic Relations Law, and still leaves the decision of how to serve with the petitioner. It also adds the new electronic option of service of orders and temporary orders of protection, by facsimile or electronic transmission by the family court to the sheriff or police department with the proper jurisdiction.
The pilot program, which expired July 1, was initiated in Erie County and included eight other counties — Albany, Monroe, Nassau, Onondaga, Westchester, Kings, New York and Richmond.
Monroe was included at the request of Chief Clerk IV Ronald W. Pawelczak, Monroe County Family Court, who wanted to ensure victims were safe and that offenders were held accountable and aware of the orders’ terms.
Monroe County victims were given the option of having the family court make arrangements for service, or they could take the order with them and contact 911 to arrange for services.
If left to the court, orders were delivered to the City of Rochester Police Department. Others were picked up by the sheriff’s office charged with handling delivery outside of the city.
To institute the pilot, Pawelczak said he contacted some towns and villages about participating, but some problems with implementation arose due to split ZIP codes. Many towns in the county have multiple postal ZIP codes and/or Rochester ZIP codes, covered by multiple agencies, which made it difficult for the court to find the correct jurisdiction for service. The program was put on hold temporarily as a result.
Much of the issue has since been resolved with the addition of new technology at the county 911 center and a new county database, which can be accessed to identify the correct police agency quickly.
An order issued this spring by the Hon. Michael V. Coccoma, the state’s deputy chief administrative judge in the Office of Court Administration, made sure everyone was in line, Pawelczak said.
“At that time, we reached out to the entire law enforcement council to find out how we could implement a countywide approach to using electronic transmission as one option,” he said. “We worked with our two biggest clients — RPD and the sheriff’s office — and town and village law enforcement council.”
Pawelczak said orders are still hand-delivered to the Rochester Police Department because clerks have to visit their headquarters anyway to deliver warrants, a process that ultimately is still more efficient.
We’re very serious about the timeliness of these orders being served,” Pawelczak said. “The new software allows us to pinpoint which police agency has to do the service. We are connected with every department.”
The court faxes orders directly to towns and villages and the various zones of the sheriff’s office, while simultaneously contacting the 911 center to let law enforcement know a fax is waiting.
Pawelczak said family court tries to be progressive with the use of technology. Other 2007 changes in the law expanded the number of people covered, and greatly increased the number of orders issued while the overall size of the court’s staff has remained the same, he said.
Protection originally was available for people related by blood or marriage or those who had a child in common, but has since been extended to include intimate relationships such as dating and same-sex partners.
Pawelczak said 3,158 orders were issued in 2009 — up from 2,591 in 2008 and 2,310 in 2007.
E-mail-based service is being implemented more slowly because the court requires police agencies to have a central mailbox that can be checked periodically, as opposed to an assigned officer who may not be working on a given day and not checking his or her e-mail account.
“At this point, the only agency I’m aware of that is exploring that option is RPD,” Pawelczak said. “Ultimately, I would like to see, in the big picture, that we could e-mail these to 911 directly and 911 could mail them directly to an officer in the car. That would be the piece de resistance, long-term planning wise.”
Pawelczak acknowledged that will probably take several years to put in place, however.
The Hon. Craig J. Doran, supervising judge of the family courts in the Seventh Judicial District, said Judge Coccoma’s policy memo clarified several of the program’s points, rolled out countywide in mid-June.
“We were not able to take full advantage of the pilot program because it was working well the way we were doing it,” he said. “It would not have been any more efficient. We appreciated having the authority, but there were some logistical concerns.”
The court worked on protocols periodically, and tried to serve orders electronically on a piecemeal basis.
“It works better to do it countywide and now we have the technology. We’ve been in several meetings with law enforcement to make sure that we’re doing it right,” Doran said. “Our objective in family court in Monroe County is to assure that the people who come to us for justice are served well. If we can use technology to help do that, we should. When we’re talking about domestic violence, often, time is of the essence.”
Overall he said he has been very pleased with the degree of cooperation from all law enforcement agencies.