'Passport' initiative focuses on victim safety
For victims of domestic violence, a protective order is a passport to safety.
But only if all jurisdictions recognize one another's orders.
Since 1994, the federal Violence Against Women Act has - in theory, at least - guaranteed such cross-jurisdictional cooperation, requiring that all state and tribal courts enforce valid protection orders. In reality, efforts to achieve the goal continue, as they did last month during a Northeast regional state-tribal forum at MGM Grand at Foxwoods.
Sponsored by such agencies as the National Center for State Courts, or NCSC, and hosted by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, the three-day event was attended by more than 60 representatives of more than a dozen state and tribal governments, including Thomas Weissmuller, chief judge of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court; Frank Gavigan, chief of the Mohegan Tribal Police; and Christopher Duryea, a research attorney for the Connecticut Judicial Branch.
The forum was part of "Extending Project Passport," whose goal is to encourage states and tribes to adopt a readily recognizable model for the first page of protective orders, according to Denise Dancy, an NCSC research associate.
"Protective orders can vary from one to dozens of pages," Dancy said. "It's essential that the first page contain information that the courts and law enforcement officers need."
Project Passport, a precursor of the current effort, oversaw the regional development of a first-page template, an effort spearheaded by Kentucky and seven surrounding states in 2000. Today, more than 30 states have incorporated the template in their orders of protection and others are considering doing so. Numerous tribes across the country have also adopted it.
While the Mashantucket tribal court grants fewer than 20 civil or criminal protective orders a year, it's called upon to enforce many more issued by state courts and involving people who come on the tribe's reservation, including Foxwoods Resort Casino, Weissmuller said. The tribal court can detain a violator of a protective order until state authorities take him or her into custody.
Violations of orders issued by the tribal court can occur off the reservation, in which case it's up to the appropriate state courts to uphold them.
"Everyone dials 911 when they're in trouble, it doesn't matter where they are," Weissmuller said. "You want to take away concerns about the validity of an order. You want (law-enforcement officers) to focus on protecting the individual."
In addition to dealing with jurisdictional issues, "Extending Project Passport" promotes law-enforcement agencies' access to and sharing of information contained in protection-order registries.