Violence prevention program gets the ax

Violence prevention program gets the ax

A successful information technology program in South Carolina to help prevent domestic violence has closed in the wake of a state budget crisis.

The Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons, a nonprofit organization, operated the Victims Alert Project with funds from the South Carolina Public Safety Department. The project first received state funding in late 1996 and operated from April 1997 until the funding dried up in March.

Bad timing

Project manager Jeff Culbert said the center received three grants totaling $1.35 million during the project's four-year duration.

'Indirectly, state budget cuts helped kill the program,' Culbert said. Center staff members appealed to the department and other state agencies for money to continue the domestic violence prevention program, but the money was denied. 'Any other year this would have sailed right through,' Culbert said.

South Carolina faces a budget shortfall of $500 million out of a state budget of $5.5 billion [GCN/State & Local, April, Page 1].

The Victims Alert Project served people, primarily women, who had suffered from criminal domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct or stalking as well as burglary or arson related to domestic disputes.

Under the program, the victims received technical enforcement of one-mile areas called hot zones around their homes and workplaces, which offenders were forbidden by court order to enter.

The systems, leased on a daily basis from Protech Monitoring Inc. of Odessa, Fla., included ankle bracelets and milk carton-sized portable tracking devices (PTDs) equipped with cellular modems, FM radios and Global Positioning System receivers.

PTDs would activate when the offenders entered the hot zones, as monitored by the GPS receivers, or traveled more than 15 feet away from the PTD units, as monitored by the FM transmitters in the ankle bracelets. The GPS receivers were each programmed to recognize the designated hot zones.

Pager alert

When a PTD was activated, it alerted workers in the Protech center in Odessa, who then would warn the domestic violence victim via numeric pager and signal local police that an offender had entered a specific hot zone.

The program served 46 counties in western South Carolina, covering 40 percent of the state's population. It included Aiken, Charleston, Columbia and Spartanburg.

The program served between 45 and 50 victims at any given time, Culbert said. 'About twice a month, offenders would go back to jail for violating the hot zones,' Culbert said.

'We have looked into raising private funds for the project and will continue to do so,' Culbert said. 'This program gave the victims peace of mind and security. Some of these women were afraid to take the trash out to the curb or take out the mail because they thought [the offenders] might be out there. With this system, they know [the offenders] won't be out there.'

The Cumbee Center meanwhile has sent all the equipment back to Protech.

Culbert added: 'We are hopeful that if the state budget crisis eases, we will get more money. I think it is just a matter of time before this program receives funds again.'

Judge Terry Carter, the Aiken county magistrate, issued orders creating the hot zones the project used. 'It was a tool we could use to make sure the victims were safe in some cases. I think it prevented violence,' he said.

Hot topic

Carter said he created the hot zones as part of the bond conditions of domestic violence offenders.

'I would hope the state would reinstate funding,' Carter said.


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