HAMMOND | The “demand” for orders of protection in Lake County seemingly would be highest in Hammond, which is the county's largest city and also leads in domestic violence numbers, although Gary's statistics are incomplete because Gary does not participate in the county's data system. Gary is the second-largest Lake County city.
Over the past three years, Hammond's 407 domestic battery cases easily outpaced Merrillville with 109 and East Chicago with 101, among communities with the highest incidences of the crime.
A review of 2011 figures suggests that per-capita, Lake Station, Griffith and Whiting would join them in a top six, but in a statistical anomaly New Chicago was the overall leader that year.
Gary barely made the top 10, but that's because the only Gary cases that show up in Lake County records are those that meander through the county courts in Crown Point.
As of June 2012, 1,266 order-of-protection petitions were filed countywide, said Judge William Davis, citing state Supreme Court statistics. Davis, who sits on the Lake Superior Court bench in Hammond, has heard his fair share of them. There are no figures on how many were granted, denied, or show the victim asked the order be removed or the filing simply lapsed from inaction.
Many of those Davis denied were because disputants were misinformed about their eligibility for them, he said.
Davis and colleagues met with Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller over the summer to ease the load by reviewing eligibility requirements for the orders because too many officers had advised crime victims to “just go down to the courthouse and get an order of protection,” he said.
A study released in October found that while court filings have declined by 16 percent statewide since 2008, courts in Lake County are operating at 109 percent of workload capacity and those in Porter County at 133 percent.
One of the more common misconceptions is that those who can petition the court for a protective order are disputants who are unrelated, or those who are related but not in an emergency situation. The statute doesn't cover people in either of those situations, Davis said.
For instance, if one of two feuding co-workers claims his rival for a job he got deflated his tires and otherwise vandalized his car in a fit of pique, he can't seek an order of protection from the rival. If spouses have an altercation and one has vacated the premises to parts unknown, the other spouse might not receive one because no emergency exists.
Those who seek an order of protection need not see their attacker in court. In what is called an ex parte hearing, the judge frequently rules on the order of protection without the accused being present.
Speaking from memory, he said no more than 10 respondents in 2011 sought a hearing in his court to reply to the order, and of those, fewer than five showed up at the hearing.
Once granted a protective order, petitioners are told to remain invested in their case. If the victim/petitioner is being harassed by the abuser, it is up to the victim to take the initiative to notify the prosecutor's office.
Victims should get a copy of the police report after they have alleged stalking or harassment, including intimidation from verbal threats, emails and voicemails. They should then take a copy of the misdemeanor or felony report to the prosecutor's office, Davis said. There, they will make a sworn affidavit that the offense occurred, asking for the prosecutor to swear out a complaint. The prosecutor's office then will present that complaint to a magistrate, he said.