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Editorials

Hope Card carries limits

At first glance, a new state program meant to help domestic violence victims seems beneficial. But the program is redundant to the system that’s already in place and could put the onus on victims to provide proof of court orders when they call police for help.

The Indiana attorney general’s office announced the Indiana Hope Card program Tuesday. Under the program, domestic violence victims would receive wallet-sized cards summarizing court orders of protection to show to police.

Abuse victims with a valid protective order lasting at least a year can request a Hope Card from local victims’ advocates, including the YWCA of Northeast Indiana. The goal of the program is to expedite the arrest of abusers.

“Yeah, it may be a nice tool, but I worry it puts another burden on victims,” said Dottie Davis, deputy chief of the Fort Wayne Police Department.

Unquestionably, the intent of the program is laudable, and Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s effort deserves appreciation. But it appears that more research was needed before the program was launched. The attorney general’s office should have started by seeking more input from victims’ advocates and local law enforcement experts about the proposed program.

Davis, a nationally recognized expert on domestic violence who serves as a board member for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Women’s Bureau, said “it feels as though we are putting an extra responsibility on the victim to keep an extra piece of documentation.” When victims are in crisis, it is a chaotic time. They may be fleeing and may not even have their wallet or purse.

She is also concerned that victims will get a false sense of security by thinking the card gives them an extra piece of protection.

There is already a system in place to let police officers responding to domestic violence calls know when a protective order is in effect. Court clerks enter protective order information into Indiana’s JTAC (Judicial Technology Automation Committee) database each day. Emergency dispatchers have immediate access to the online protective order information that they provide to responding officers.

Police officers are able to make an arrest only after the perpetrator is served with the protective order from the court and violates that order. Having a Hope Card is not likely to accelerate that process.

“This is supposed to compliment that system,” said Erin Reece, spokeswoman with the attorney general’s office. The cards are not only for the benefit of law enforcement; victims can show the card to school officials, daycare providers or apartment managers to let them know about a protective order.

There is also the matter of training domestic violence victims about how to use the cards and training police officers about what they should do when someone shows them one of the laminated cards.

Reece said the attorney general’s office is planning to hold a series of webinars to train victims’ advocates about the Hope Cards soon.

A $30,000 grant from Verizon Wireless is helping to pay for the program. Verizon is also the generous sponsor of the Hope Line program, which provides domestic violence victims with refurbished cell phones they can use to call for help in emergencies.

The cell phone program is a proven program that improves protection for victims.

As for the Hope Card program, it should give victims of domestic violence a quick way to inform police or other security personnel if someone is violating a protective order – but those victims must also understand its limitations.

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