Portable Alarms as a Tool for Combating Domestic Violence

September 19, 2016

By: Stop Stick

Category: Stop Stick News

Appears in Sept. issue of

According to the National Census of Domestic Violence Services, 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines across the country on any given day. Abuse occurs in all types of socioeconomic situations. Many domestic violence victims do not have a plan or a support system to help them until it’s too late. A significant number of domestic violence calls eventually end up with some type of police involvement. Once these cases enter the system, the first priority becomes the protection of the victim. In an ideal world, law enforcement would provide around-the-clock protection to victims to provide peace of mind, however, this isn’t feasible due to limited resources. Portable alarm technology can be a key support to both law enforcement and domestic violence victims by providing 24/7/365 protection and immediate notification of any issue that needs attention.

Portable alarms can easily be set up at the residence of a domestic violence victim within seconds. These devices are equipped with wireless panic buttons that the victim can wear in and around their homes. When the panic button is pressed, the system instantly triggers an audio message that plays over local law enforcement two-way radios, announcing the location and the incident. The process from the time the button is pressed to transmission takes less than two seconds, providing the quickest possible notification to law enforcement of a potential issue.

For years, portable/cellular phones were provided to victims to allow them to call 911 if a problem arose. The unfortunate truth is, even if the phone is within reach, the time it takes to dial, speak to a dispatcher, then send help, is time the person on the line doesn’t always have. Portable alarms’ direct transmission to law enforcement radios decrease the response time and essentially act as a victim’s lifeline, thus increasing the likelihood that the event can be resolved without injury to the victim.

In Bangor, Maine, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department and surrounding municipalities use portable alarms as a tool for dealing with domestic violence cases. With two-thirds of all homicides in Maine directly related to domestic violence, portable alarms are an invaluable tool to extend the limited policing presence in the state. Penobscot County sheriffs benefit from a local foundation, and have acquired 15 portable alarms over the last several years for use in protecting victims of domestic violence, with plans to continue expanding the program annually.

The county’s program is essentially an equipment loan program, where the sheriff’s department will provide the equipment to surrounding agencies and counties in Maine when they have domestic violence situations where portable alarm devices would be advantageous. As word spread through area law enforcements agencies about the uses of the equipment, the demand has increased, resulting in continued program expansion.

Penobscot County recently deployed a portable alarm in a situation where options were limited for providing immediate response to a person with a protective order. In one case a female resident had been granted a protective order against her husband. This posed an issue for law enforcement, as she lived in a remote area of the county, which made it difficult for officers to check on her regularly. Compounding problem, cellular service in the area was virtually nonexistent, limiting the ways the woman could reach out for help in the event of an emergency. The department set up the alarm and a wireless panic button at the residence to allow her to keep some semblance of a normal life. While the system was not activated during the deployment, the woman was grateful for the lifeline to the department that she otherwise would not have been afforded because of her remote living situation.

Along with panic buttons, portable alarms can be used in conjunction with other sensors to provide an extra layer of security for domestic violence victims. Using wireless motion detectors and door/window contacts, a temporary security system can be installed at a victim’s residence. These systems are very similar to those installed in homes across the country. The difference is that these sensors are wireless and can easily be mounted and removed without damage to the property. Using the makeshift security system setup allows victims to feel more at ease at night, knowing if someone enters their home, police are already on their way without activation of their panic button.

In Virginia, a department struggled to protect a domestic violence victim who refused protection and demanded to remain in her home while waiting to testify at trial. In this case, the perpetrator was a former boyfriend who broke into her house and waited for her to come home to confront her about her new relationship. Using a portable alarm, police established a makeshift system that would monitor the house. The alarm monitored the house when she wasn’t there and while she slept, providing her with peace of mind in knowing her residence was secured. Once deployed, police received an alarm notification alerting them to an issue at the residence. Upon responding to the alarm, police found the individual whom she was supposed to testify against attempting to break into the house. The former boyfriend was arrested. His bail was revoked.

An added benefit of using portable alarm systems in domestic violence situations is that, once the issue is resolved, the system can be moved to another location where it once again can provide victims with peace of mind that help is only the press of a button away. Initially, there is a cost associated with acquiring the equipment, but the cost can often be offset with local and federal grants for domestic violence prevention, or as in the Penobscot County case, a foundation grant. With no ongoing monitoring fees, the cost to law enforcement is only the initial expense of the portable alarm equipment, making the financial investment simpler to budget for.

Portable alarm equipment has the potential to more than pay for itself in the long run through significant savings of man hours, increased protection in the community, as well as lives that can potentially be saved in domestic violence situations. With the plague of domestic violence, as law enforcement budgets grow tighter, technology like portable alarms can create a lifeline where there currently isn’t one.