State trooper death highlights need for PFA changes

PHOTO CREDIT: Pennsylvania State Police

PHOTO CREDIT: Pennsylvania State Police

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The death of a Pennsylvania State Police trooper has renewed calls for stronger procedures dealing with protection from abuse (PFA) orders.

Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Landon Weaver, 23, was shot and killed Dec. 30 while investigating a report of a PFA violation in Juniata Township, Huntingdon County.

“It also brings into focus the lethality and the risk to law enforcement who put their lives on the line every single day to protect victims of domestic violence,” Ellen Kramer, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said.

In the wake of the death,  the coalition is hoping stronger policies related to PFA orders will make victims, law enforcement and the public safer.

Last year, the Joint State Government Commission drafted recommendations on how to strengthen the state’s PFA act. The eight recommendations include:

• Empower courts to issue search and seizure orders for weapons as part of their PFA orders if there is cause to believe the defendant has weapons and may use them against the victim.
• Eliminate the family exemption from background checks for transfers of handguns.
• Amend the current provision that allows defendants to place their weapons in the hands of third-party safe keepers. PCADV supports the recommendation that the third-party safekeeping option be abolished completely.
• Enhance safety for victims by requiring that sheriffs, deputies or other officers serve protection orders. Requiring a victim to serve their own order on the defendant results in heightened danger for that victim.
• Before setting bail, courts should use a risk assessment tool to evaluate potential danger to the victim. Use of an evidence-based assessment will provide the court with essential information to determine whether a defendant who violated a PFA order by means of physical violence or has been arrested for committing a domestic violence crime can be safely released on bail.
• Authorize courts to extend or reinstate an expired PFA order when an incarcerated defendant is about to be released and the court concludes that they pose a continuing threat to the victim.
• Encourage local law enforcement to use active GPS monitoring of abusers to provide real-time notice to victims that their abusers are in their vicinity. The Commission recommends that the proposal would need further consideration by law enforcement entities and might be suited to a grant program under the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
• Clarify through statute the roles of dating violence, teen dating violence and same sex relationships in order to improve interpretation of the law. The Commission notes that these changes are not vital to closing any perceived gaps in the PFA Act.

 

Drafted under a House resolution by now-retired Rep. Mauree Gingrich (R – Lebanon) in 2016, the mantle has been passed on to Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R – Cumberland), who is hoping to turn those recommendations into legislation.

“113 individuals [in Pennsylvania] died last year due to domestic violence, and while that number may not seem very large, these are people that are supposed to love each other,” she said. “These are people that live together, these are people with relationships, children together.”

One bill that is expected in the new legislative session will be sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware), that looks to keep guns out of the hands of those convicted of domestic violence offenses and those with PFA orders against them.