The item “To Protect and Serve?” (City Desk, 10/20) was misleading to your readers on a number of counts. In my telephone conversation with your reporter, Annys Shin, I neither suggested nor agreed that there had been a decline in the number of civil protection orders Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers serve in respect to domestic violence. Nor did I say that redeployment of officers from special units was a contributing factor. After an apology from your reporter earlier this week, I am pleased to have the opportunity to set the record straight.
Temporary protection orders issued by D.C. Superior Court are picked up by MPD officers from the Paternity Warrant Squad twice a day. The responsibility of the officers is to serve the orders on respondents within 14 days prior to a court hearing when the order may become a civil protection order, current for one year. The officers are very much aware that petitioners who apply for temporary protection pending a hearing do so because they believe their lives are in imminent danger. For that reason, as well as the fact that the orders are signed by a judge, the officers make every effort to locate respondents to serve the papers prior to the 14-day deadline.
Those who suggest that the MPD has “left domestic-violence victims in the lurch” may not know the difficulties officers face in this task. First, some petitioners do not have current addresses for respondents, and a few deliberately offer false addresses to the court because they merely want to scare off their abusers. Many respondents change address or leave the area to evade service of process. When officers attend an address, there may not be an answerwhich necessitates repeat visits (because the protection order cannot be left at the doorit would not be considered served). Similarly, when a relative or roommate answers the door and declines to accept the papers, the officers cannot serve an order.
The MPD takes its role in the service of protection orders seriously. These orders provide an important safety net to thousands of victims every year in the District of Columbia. (At last count, we had over 3,145 orders since the beginning of the year.) Are there days when officers return orders that they have not been able to serve? Yes, for the reasons I have explained above. Is the availability of manpower an issue? Yes, sometimes, as is the case with all demands on police time. For these reasons, we closely monitor the rate of service.
The MPD wishes to serve victims of domestic violence as best we can. We know there is always room for improvement. But please don’t accuse us of having it “in for” victims. Another time, maybe we could inform your paper of all the efforts being taken to enhance our response to crime victims, including victims of family violence.
Program Manager, Family Violence
Metropolitan Police Department