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Your article, ” Pivotal Domestic Violence Case Heads for High Court” [March 9], highlights an important social problem: the often deadly failure of law enforcement to protect victims of domestic abuse. In the Castle Rock v. Gonzalescase, three young children and the abusive husband died as a result. The U.S. Supreme Court will now have to decide whether a civil rights remedy is available to the mother of the three dead children, because she had a restraining order against her husband that allegedly was not enforced by the police department. No matter what the court decides, the three children will not be brought back to life. But the court may be in the position to save countless other lives. For the last 24 years I have been working in the legal arena to prevent domestic violence. I have worked with survivor advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies to make restraining orders an effective tool to prevent violence, which leads to death for some and terror for literally millions of victims each year in the U.S. My law office, Bay Area Legal Aid, has helped thousands of victims of domestic violence obtain restraining orders. But restraining orders are only effective if they are enforced. Most perpetrators of domestic violence obey the orders because they fear arrest if they violate them. In a study done for one of our restraining order clinics we found that in 69 percent of the cases the violence stopped after the restraining order was obtained. In 19 percent, the violence decreased, and in 11 percent it stayed the same or increased. But would these encouraging numbers be the same if the orders were not enforced by most officers? Fortunately, most law enforcement officers will enforce them because they are court orders, and in California the law mandates that they be enforced. But there are exceptions. The city of Oakland recently lost a jury trial where the police department was found to have failed to enforce an order and the victim was killed. In San Francisco, the city settled a similar case in the death of Claire Tempongko. The fear of lawsuits has held many law enforcement agencies accountable, forcing them to follow the law mandating arrests for restraining order violations. The court is now in the position of determining whether this fear will continue to exist or not. How the court rules is not just an academic exercise, but a real life-and-death decision. If the court finds a civil rights remedy, lives will be saved. If it holds that the government does not have a duty to protect after the courts have issued a protective order, then the four people that died in Castle Rock, Colo. in 1999 will just be statistics among the thousands of victims who die as a result of domestic violence each year. Kenneth J. Theisen San Francisco

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