After Rebecca Tacchetti filed a protective order this summer, she felt more at ease knowing that the Howard County Sheriff's Office was only a phone call away when she had questions, worries or simply needed a shoulder to lean on.
"They have been a wonderful support during a very difficult transition in a person's life," said Tacchetti, a Howard County resident.
Tacchetti was one of the people to benefit from a pilot program called the Domestic Violence Welfare Check-Up. The Sheriff's Office started the program about two months ago to give those who filed protective and peace orders a way to follow up with deputies if they had questions about the process, said Sgt. Brian Baer, who heads the office's domestic violence unit.
Last week, the department fully implemented the program, which was started after the office heard about other domestic violence units around the country with similar initiatives. In Howard County, seven deputies share the responsibility of making follow-up calls and visits to petitioners - the people who file the orders - as well as making sure respondents, those against whom the orders are filed, adhere to them, Baer said.
"They were kind of left in the dark," said Mark Verderaime, a Sheriff's Office spokesman, about petitioners before the program was put into place. "They got all this great information at the scene ... but it stopped there. There was no follow-up from law enforcement."
For Tacchetti, one of the more valuable aspects of the program is its proactive nature.
"They're a conspicuous presence in the county, and they let the respondent know that they're being monitored," she said. "And they ask you how they can be a support to you, which is a tremendous resource."
Tacchetti said that the deputies will make phone calls or home visits, depending on the petitioner's preference.
"They're there to answer questions, and you have a lot of questions when you find yourself in this particular situation," she said. Those questions range from how the respondent's case has proceeded in court to where to get support services.
Baer said the program is in effect Sunday night through Friday night; county police handle the protective and peace orders during the weekend. The Sheriff's Office is trying to gain full responsibility for the orders. The office has also requested county funding to add five deputies to the program, Baer said.
The Sheriff's Office gets about 110 peace and protective orders a month, he added.
"We're going to continue exactly what we're doing," Baer said. "We're getting a real positive response."