When the Alamance County Family Justice Center opened in July 2010, it was the first of its kind in North Carolina. When the first client walked into the center and filed a protective order electronically on June 24, 2013 the state celebrated another milestone. Now, members of the team who made obtaining the orders simpler and safer for domestic violence victims will be recognized as national innovators.
Government Computer News (GCN) has chosen the Alamance County Electronic Protective Order System as one of 10 winners for “Outstanding Information Technology Achievement in Government” in 2014. The system is one of only two local-level projects that received the honor. The other winner was iRideNYC, an app that provides subway, bus and biking information for New York City.
“This is a one-of-a-kind innovative system,” said Cindy Brady, director of the Alamance County Family Justice Center (FJC). “One of the unique things is there is a whole group of people, all from different places and different agencies, that made this happen. Not many counties can boast that sort of collaboration.”
The North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, as well as members of law enforcement and dozens of other agencies pulled together to make a “vision” become reality. Alamance chief district court judge Jim Roberson said he discussed simplifying the filing of protective orders with the Family Justice Center for about eight years. The judge said officials, including then-NC House Rep. Dan Ingle and Sen. Rick Gunn, helped give the project the green light by sharing its importance with other legislators.
Roberson said the “old way” of issuing orders left victims of domestic violence at risk when traveling from place to place to get a protective order. Victims would begin at the Family Justice Center, located at 1950 Martin St. in Burlington, and make stops at the Clerk of Court’s Office, the judge’s office and the Sheriff’s Office in Graham. The process took an average of 10 to 12 hours to complete. Alamance County Management Information Systems’ Greg Paravis said some victims became frustrated and did not finish the filing – leaving them without protection.
“If you had to get something done at the DMV, and you were going to have to go to five different government buildings to do it, it would be annoying,” he said. “But if your safety was at risk at all of those points and in transit, that’s a different conversation. That’s where the victims were.”
Brady said the new system allows victims and advocates to save time. The new process now takes approximately three to five hours and is a one-stop task. After victims file a complaint at the FJC, an advocate enters the information into the system, where it is emailed to the Clerk of Court’s Office. Once processed, the Clerk of Court’s Office will send the order to the district court judge. The victim will discuss his or her complaint with the judge via videoconference at the Family Justice Center. If the judge approves the order, it is sent to an advocate at the FJC and to the Sheriff’s Department. When the order is served, the victim will receive an email or text message.
Chief advocate of Family Abuse Services Morgan Morris said the process also allows victims and advocates more time to discuss safety planning, in case their order is violated. She said many clients did not return for counseling assistance under the previous system.
“They’d be exhausted and understandably so,” she said. “Every client I’ve worked with has benefited in some way because they have that extra support during the filing process. It’s more comprehensive. We’re not just looking at a protective order; we’re looking at overall safety.”
Since the center began using the system, the number of referrals has increased. Last year the FJC issued approximately 392 protective orders. The center has issued about 450 orders in 2014 so far. Roberson said he hopes to see victims across Alamance County use the system – not just Burlington residents.
“The site for the facility is in Burlington, but it is the Alamance County Family Justice System – and this is the Alamance County Electronic Protective Order System,” he said. “It covers the entire county, and includes our friends all the way over in Gibsonville to Mebane, north to south.”
Brady said she hopes to see other counties install systems like the Alamance County Electronic Protective Order System in the future. Although building the system was challenging, she said she is glad to have been a part of the team.
“It has been a game changer,” she said. “If you get the right people around the table, and everyone is involved in every step of the way instead of trying to have these conversations in isolation, you’ll come up with the solution – and usually it’s the right one.”
The 27th annual GNC Awards Gala will be held on Oct. 14 at The Ritz- Carlton Tysons Corner in McLean, Va