Orders of Protection

No Simple Decision

An order of protection (also called a restraining order or protective order) is a valuable tool for many victims of domestic violence, but it's not a practical or safe option for everyone. Friends, family, your attorney, or a counselor may urge you to get an order because they believe it will ensure safety for you and your family. You might be required to get an order by a child protection agency, employer, shelter or public benefits worker to prove that you are taking legal action to protect yourself and your children. However, an order is effective only when the abuser is willing to obey it. He must also know that police, prosecutors and the court will enforce the order.

Your decision whether or not to obtain an protective order is complex. An order can prohibit further threats and violence, grant exclusive possession of the home and temporary custody of the children, order the abuser to stay away, prohibit disposal or destruction of property, and provide other supports for your safety. Protective orders are public record and will come to the department's attention. Some departments have policies that require an officer to report that an order of protection was issued against him. It may not result in any intervention, however. Supervisors may see it as a marital dispute or a "he said, she said" situation that does not warrant any reassignment or disciplinary action.

Weigh Consequences

Never underestimate the potential danger in seeking an order.

Your abuser will probably fiercely resist your attempts to get an order. Possible professional consequences for him include loss of his service weapon and restriction to desk duties; removal from special units such as SWAT or drug enforcement; even suspension or dismissal from the force. There are also professional consequences for you if you are in law enforcement. Superiors may change or restrict your duties. Fellow officers, other public safety workers, and court personnel will be aware that you have petitioned for an order.

Your attorney and advocate may not be fully aware of the possible negative consequences of protective orders. Perhaps everyone in the court knows and respects your abuser — the prosecutor, clerks, attorneys, and the judges. A judge may deny your order because you don't conform to standards of traditional femininity and motherhood, you may contradict victim stereotypes, you may be in a same-sex relationship, or you may be an officer yourself. Local law enforcement may delay or withhold serving it. Carefully consider:

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Orders of Protection and Gun Laws

You, your advocate and attorney must be familiar with your state's laws and the employing department's policies for gun restrictions related to orders of protection.

Police officers are allowed to carry their official-use firearm unless the Order of Protection specifically states that s/he cannot possess a firearm at any time. Reference: Possession of Firearms 18 USC 922 (g)(8)

A person subject to a qualifying Order of Protection is not allowed to possess a personal firearm or personal ammunition. This restriction does not apply to law enforcement service weapons. While Federal law prohibits anyone subject to an order of protection from possessing a firearm, police officers are allowed an "official use exemption." This means that an officer is allowed to carry a service weapon on duty, unless a protective order specifically states that he cannot carry a firearm at any time, or departmental policy prohibits him from carrying a weapon while subject to an order. An officer who has been convicted of a qualifying misdemeanor of domestic violence is prohibited from possessing a weapon, unless his record has been expunged.

An order of protection does not prohibit the officer from carrying a service weapon unless the order specifically states that s/he is not to possess any weapon at any time. This remedy is only granted in the most extreme cases. The judge must be convinced that there is a high risk that the abuser would use the service weapon against you. Some police departments have a policy that prohibits an officer who is subject to a protective order from carrying a firearm even while on duty. Other departments may allow the officer to carry a firearm on duty, but require the weapon to be turned in at the end of the shift. In most departments, police officers who are subject to protective orders are allowed to carry their firearms and remain on full active duty.

Court Procedures

Your initial or emergency OP is temporary. When it expires, you must return to court to request an extended order. You may have to appear in court multiple times before a long-term order is granted. The abuser will have the opportunity to appear before the judge and tell his side of the story, and he will be prepared. He will likely deny all of the allegations and swear that he is not a threat to you or your family. He may use any of the following tactics:

Judges are reluctant to grant a long-term order when the respondent is an officer. If the judge denies the permanent order, it will reinforce the batterer's sense of immunity and entitlement. He may also use it later to show that you have a history of attempting to ruin his career through unfounded allegations.

Administrative Orders of Protection

Law enforcement agencies have a degree of authority over officers, within the bounds of collective bargaining agreements and state law, which may provide a type of order of protection outside the civil or criminal court system. An Administrative Order of Protection is a direct order from the command level to refrain from specific conduct, such as going to your home and workplace, or contacting you via phone, e-mail, or a third party. It is enforceable by the department and if the officer violates it, the department can discipline him for insubordination. Explore this option in place of or in addition to any civil order.

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