A new database of restraining orders and protective orders across California is keeping courts and law enforcement officials up to date on the histories of potentially dangerous individuals.

Called the California Courts Protective Order Registry (CCPOR), the system stores electronic scans of the orders so that judicial and public safety personnel can view special conditions and notes that judges add to the documentation.

Currently the CCPOR has been deployed to trial courts in 22 counties and three tribal courts in the Golden State, with plans to roll out access to the registry to all 58 counties in California by 2013.

The California Department of Justice (DOJ) manages the largest statewide database of protective orders — the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) — but not every trial court uses that database because a variety of certifications are needed to access it.

David Loo, supervising IS analyst in the Information Services Division of the Judicial Council of California Administrative Office of the Courts — and one of the CCPOR project managers — said that every user and computer has to go through a rigorous certification process and undergo routine audits and refresher training from California DOJ in order to access to CLETS.

Loo said that because of those restrictions, most trial courts in California are not using CLETS, which can lead to confusing and dangerous situations. If a judge is trying to make a decision, he or she may only have access to information from his or her own county. In some cases the judge may be limited to his or her own courthouse. CCPOR was developed to bridge that information gap.

For example, if a person has a restraining order in one area of the state, but a child custody situation arises in a separate county, a judge without access to CLETS may not know about the prior situation and issue a conflicting order. The situation could easily cause confusion for both law enforcement and individuals involved in the dispute.

That occurrence should happen much less frequently once the CCPOR is in place throughout the state. Even in the middle of a hearing or a custody situation, a judge or law enforcement official can log on to the CCPOR system and look up information to verify what they are being told.

While CCPOR users can’t access the information in CLETS, the orders filed in the CCPOR system are automatically transferred to CLETS, so those on that system have access to the new information too.

The types of orders that will be captured in CCPOR include:

  • civil harassment restraining orders;
  • domestic violence restraining orders;
  •  emergency protective orders;
  • out-of-state domestic violence restraining orders;
  • criminal protective orders;
  • elder abuse restraining orders;
  • juvenile restraining orders;
  • school violence prevention orders; and
  • workplace violence orders.

     

Development and Challenges

The CCPOR project began in February 2008 and cost roughly $2 million to build, according to Jeffrey Johnson, manager in the Information Services Division of the Judicial Council of California Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). He said half of that expense was grant funded and new courts are being brought online as more grant funds come in.

Although Loo said deploying CCPOR isn’t necessarily hard, getting the California Department of Justice to understand what officials wanted to do with the system was initially a big hurdle.

Loo recalled that at first, the Administrative Office of the Courts attempted to loosen the certifications process for access to CLETS, while California DOJ looked into adding scans of orders to the system. But both scenarios didn’t seem likely to happen. California DOJ abandoned the thought of adding scans to CLETS, Loo said, opting instead to let the CCPOR fill that gap.

“It was less about technical challenges but more about figuring out the right process for this where DOJ understood what we were trying to do and would allow us to submit [scans] to their database and figure out the rules of who can do what with what comes back from DOJ,” Loo said.

He did add, however, that there were some technical challenges, which were mitigated by using some of the technologies in the California Case Management System (CCMS), the new trial court case management system that’s been under development for several years.

“We ended up using the same technology stack, the same architecture, the same components,” Loo said, referring to technology CCPOR is utilizing from CCMS. “We’re going to end up being the restraining protective interface for CCMS to talk to DOJ. So what we have built out, CCMS leverages back.”

The initial response to the new system has been positive, Loo said, particularly with the courts. He said that if funding were available, another five counties would be online with CCPOR right now.

But not everyone took to the system readily at first. Some law enforcement officials were hesitant to shake things up and use CCPOR, despite the benefits.

“They have a system that they use and they know, and it was tough to convince some of them to change because they [already] had access to information,” Loo said. “I felt them recognize right away the value of having scanned images would be incredible. But some of them that were resistant to it were worried that data entry would take longer.”

The step-by-step rollout of CCPOR has also been a challenge for the new system’s users. Loo said that that because not everyone is on CCPOR yet, while a protective or restraining order may be generated by a CCPOR-using court, if it’s served by a user operating in a county without CCPOR that enters the information into CLETS, CCPOR users — unless they are authorized on CLETS — can’t pull and view the data from the DOJ database.

Although inefficient, once all the counties are operating on CCPOR, the situation should resolve itself.

Next Steps

In addition to rolling out CCPOR to the rest of the trial courts in California counties, upgrades and additions to the system are also in the works.

Loo explained that chief among those future changes will be a way to make electronic submission of data easier. He said that right now, while there are numerous PDF forms posted to CCPOR, the process could be further automated by having people electronically sign forms as opposed to printing the form, having it signed, and then scanning it.

While useful for courts and for operators at police dispatch centers, will CCPOR eventually be available for use by police in their vehicles? Johnson said CCPOR was set up so that operators can send images to officers in their cars if their county supports some mechanism to do it. But that the function isn’t really a core priority of CCPOR at this point.

According to Loo, the normal procedure is for an officer to call in a person to an operator, who would then look up the person through CCPOR and radio back the information about any restraining or protective orders to the officer.

Tribal court users are testing the Web-based mobile functionality of CCPOR, however. The system is deployed as a pilot program with the Hoopa Valley, Quechan and Yurok tribes.

“Tribal court users are actually piloting for us in part because they don’t have quite the same support staff behind them, so they’re actually taking a look at how easy it is to use CCPOR mobile out in the field,” Loo said.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.