What’s being done to speed up the TRO process

Far too often in Hawaii, victims of violence wait months for protection from the courts. After KHON2 started asking questions about it last year, some major changes were made to speed up the process for temporary restraining orders.

Since then technology has made things a little easier for courts, police and victims. But KHON2 has also discovered some unintended consequences that still need to get fixed.

When Always Investigating dug into thousands of TRO cases starting last spring, KHON2 found about 20 percent took a month to serve, and nearly one in six were simply un-served. They could be in a police to-do stack, the respondent could be hard to find, or the victims themselves were still holding the paper.

That’s right. The victims had to act as courier to get that TRO from court to police to serve.

“I’m already struggling to get into the court to file this TRO,” a domestic violence survivor said. “So now I have to go to the police station and get you guys to track him down? I think from the courthouse it should go straight to the police station.”

After KHON2′s story, the Judiciary and the Honolulu Police Department got together, and the family court started the electronic transfer of TRO documents in March. So after getting a protective order approved, a victim can now opt out of the rest of the process and no longer worry about carrying that paper to the police.

The Judiciary said the change is to protect petitioners and families, and the feedback so far is more positive than negative.

“The opportunity to eliminate extra steps for survivors is a wonderful advancement,” said Domestic Violence Action Center CEO Nancy Kreidman. “But it creates unintended consequences sometimes. Fixes, changes and adjustments do create new weaknesses or gaps.”

Gaps like many of us are familiar with such as the e-TRO gets lost or buried in an email inbox.

“The police report, hey, we haven’t received the restraining order, the petition that was granted by the family court, and of course family court says they’ve got a system in place,” said Kreidman.

“You’re going to have situations where police need to verify something with someone, where the person responsible at our office or the Judiciary isn’t available at that time of day, or night usually,” Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Kokua Services Director Dennis Dunn said. “Sometimes we get conflicting information in these different systems as to whether or not an order has been served.”

And it’s that last step — serving an accused abuser — that many say still needs to be sped up.

KHON2 asked, what are things that need to change about the system most importantly?

“The service of a temporary restraining order of course is the key moment in the survivor‘s life, where a message is being delivered, a court order is describing conditions to increase the probability of safety. That service has to be effected,” explained Kreidman.

The courts say open communication between HPD and the TRO unit is key to the success of the program.

On Oahu this year, there have been 1,400 TROs filed just from family court, and police say whether its electronic or paper, they try and serve those TROs on a timely basis.

KHON2 pressed for answers on who will take the lead to speed things up.

“I’ve been in contact with several people from different agencies, the police department and the Judiciary in the past couple days,” Dunn said. “There’s a consensus that we need to meet to go step by step through the process, make sure we all understand it, and make sure there aren’t any unnecessary technological black holes that things are dripping into.”

KHON2 will keep following up until all the holes are found and fixed.

“You’ve done a great service by bringing attention to this, because a lot of the people who didn’t realize they were all part of the same process have realized now, hey we all got to work together to make it work,” Dunn said.

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