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Editorial: Stopping violence might be in the cards

There’s new hope for victims of domestic violence in Idaho.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and the Idaho Sheriff’s Association have begun issuing wallet-size “Hope Cards” to people who have obtained long-term civil protection orders against spouses, former spouses, stalkers or anyone else. On the front are the names of those being protected, the court that issued the order, the order number and the date it was issued. On the back is the name of the person ordered to stay away from the holder, a date of birth, physical description and, most importantly, a picture.

Court-issued paperwork is far less convenient and far less useful because it lacks a photograph.

In a crisis, when households may be in an uproar, the card can be easily found and given to responding officers, who can more readily confirm a protection order’s existence when they are away from the computers in their vehicles. With the photo, they may be able to apprehend an offender before he or she gets too far away.

Sometimes, officers arrive too late. There were 18 fatalities in Idaho from domestic violence last year. In 2010, almost 6,000 violent incidents involving spouses or companions were reported, and the courts received 4,600 petitions for protection orders.

The card is no more a shield than court paperwork. But Kelly Miller, executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, says it is a tool that will allow domestic violence victims and their children to get help faster, and get additional relief from civil and criminal courts more quickly.

And the cards are not just for law enforcement purposes. Copies can be left with landlords, day cares and schools, which otherwise would not be able to recognize someone with bad intentions.

The cards are available only for protection orders with durations longer than one year because those cases may be the most dangerous, and short-term orders are more subject to changes. Also, if the cards are adopted by more states, focus on long-term offenders will help assure more consistency.

Montana pioneered Hope Cards in 2010 and has issued 250 so far. Officials note a side benefit: Occasionally, card checks reveal state protection orders have not been entered in national protection order databases.

The gaps in information from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, including those between state and tribal courts, prompted former Bureau of Indian Affairs official John Oliveira to develop the Hope Card in 2004. He envisions a national registry of Hope Cards that not only contain information about protection orders, but cards that would also store voucher information for services at shelters, help with gas, or other aid for displaced victims.

Washington legislators authorized a Hope Card study committee in 2006. Members recommended the state not adopt the cards, but look for other solutions to the problems it was intended to solve. Oliveira says he was never contacted.

If the Hope Card proves useful in Idaho and Montana, and the several other states that have it under consideration, the committee’s conclusion might deserve reconsideration.


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