2016 Improvements for Orders For Protection: Faster Enforcement, More Information, & Less Uncertainty

The Minnesota Judicial Branch has completed statewide implementation of an initiative designed to improve the safety of domestic violence victims and enhance enforcement of protective orders. Through this project, Minnesota’s court system has overhauled the way it manages and shares data related to Orders for Protection. Orders for Protection – or OFPs – are civil orders issued by judicial officers to help keep domestic violence victims safe from their abusers.

Prior to the completion of this project, Minnesota’s district courts stored data relating to OFPs in an aging database that was not integrated with the Judicial Branch’s broader Minnesota Court Information System (MNCIS). This lack of integration limited both the frequency with which local district courts could share data related to protective orders with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), as well as the amount of detail about protective orders that ended up in the hands of local law enforcement charged with enforcing the orders.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch has now fully integrated OFP data into MNCIS. This integration has not only streamlined court operations but, much more importantly, will serve to enhance the enforcement of protective orders, thereby increasing the safety of domestic violence victims and law enforcement. Benefits of this integration include:

Faster enforcement of Orders for Protection: Through this integration, as soon as a new OFP is entered into MNCIS or an OFP is updated by the court, that data is shared instantly with both the BCA and the FBI. That information then becomes available to law enforcement officers responsible for serving the OFP on the respondent and enforcing the conditions of the Order. Prior to this integration, OFP data was only transmitted from the courts to law enforcement twice per day.

More information in the hands of law enforcement: Due to the limitations presented by the prior database used to store OFP information, the data that was eventually transmitted to law enforcement only displayed a two-digit code representing condition language ordered by a judicial officer, rather than the full text of the conditions ordered by the court. Today, law enforcement officers can now access the full language of judicial officers’ conditions in OFPs from squad car computers, eliminating the potential for confusion and uncertainty about how to enforce the Orders.

Less uncertainty for those seeking protection:  Law enforcement is now able to instantly report that an OFP has been served on the respondent. Those seeking protection through an OFP have the option to receive an automated e-mail message from the court notifying them that the respondent has been served with the OFP.

“Throughout our judicial system, we are leveraging new technologies to enhance our efficiency and improve our service to the public,” said Minnesota State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba. “By improving how we manage and share data with law enforcement, this new initiative is strengthening the enforcement of protection orders, and aiding law enforcement as they work to keep domestic violence victims safe from their abusers. We are grateful for our partnership with state and local law enforcement during this project, along with the support we’ve received from many community organizations across the state.”

The statewide integration of OFP data into MNCIS began as a pilot in Ramsey County District Court in February 2015. The Minnesota Judicial Branch then implemented this integration in Minnesota’s other 86 district courts over the past year, concluding with Chisago and Isanti county district courts on January 15, 2016.

“Protective orders can be an effective and valuable tool for victims of domestic violence, but they are only as good as their enforcement,” said Safia Khan, Program Manager at the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. “Often a violation of an Order for Protection is the first time a victim is reporting her abuse to the criminal justice system – a timely and appropriate response from the system can not only reduce future abuse, but also build the victim’s trust. The new OFP database has many benefits, including more efficient and timely information-sharing with law enforcement, which we hope will result in increased safety for any victim of domestic violence in Minnesota who seeks an Order for Protection.”

The project was funded through a federal grant from the Office on Violence Against Women to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Office of Justice Programs. Project partners included the State Court Administrator’s Office, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.

“This project arms Minnesota law enforcement officers with easy access to critical, real-time information that will improve system efficiency and improve victim and community safety," said Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell.

“This is about improving law enforcement’s ability to keep protected parties safe,” said BCA Superintendent Drew Evans. “The BCA created an electronic path for OFP information to get from the courts’ new system to law enforcement – giving law enforcement the information they need to protect people faster than ever before.”