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Alamance Co. pioneers online emergency protection orders

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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. -- Alamance County is doing something to protect domestic violence victims that no other county in North Carolina is doing.

The Family Justice Center and Alamance County Courts are more than one year into a program that allows alleged domestic violence victims to stay in one place as they apply for an emergency protective order, sometimes called a 50b.

A series of video calls can be made by an alleged victim to the clerk's office and then to the judge to complete the process. Other North Carolina counties require someone asking for emergency protection to visit those locations before the order can be granted.

"It is dramatic in its impact on the victim," said Judge Jim Roberson, the chief district court judge in Alamance County.

The Family Justice Center receives many of those complaints. They've seen a turnaround in the number of people following through with emergency protection orders. Before the program, more than half of the people coming to the center for help never got that 50b.

"They're 22 percent more likely to follow through [since the change]," said Bethany Sanford with the Family Justice Center.

Sanford runs the Volunteer Court Navigator Program. It pairs victims with volunteers who can offer support as they go through the court system.

Volunteers used to meet with men and women going through the 50b application. Anna, who did not want to use her last name, said sometimes those applying for a 50b would spot their attacker between visits to the courthouse and the judge's office.

"There were times when I went into the courthouse just to get a bailiff, just to be safe," said Anna.

Making video calls and completing paperwork online also allows the process to move forward in a matter of hours.

"It used to be a full day to do that and in that full day bad things have happened to alleged victims," said Judge Roberson.

Beyond safety concerns, the online protective order system also cuts down on paperwork in the courts and allows law enforcement to use the most up to date information in a domestic violence call.

"I would love to see it statewide," said Judge Roberson. "It is the way of the future days of using all this paper and the problems associated with that are on the way out."

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