Attorney General Lynn Fitch on Tuesday announced the launch of a new statewide database to track domestic violence crimes.

Law enforcement and victim advocates have long lamented the lack of a reliable system to tracks domestic violence incidents and protection orders to allow courts and law enforcement to make more informed decisions when interacting with alleged abusers.

Reportbeam, the previous version of the database, was not aligned with the system law enforcement used, so making multiple reports was cumbersome and time-consuming for officers. The system also did not allow for the same level of detail as the new version, which was created by the same developers as the eCrash system that officers use for accident reports.

The new database is “…a user-friendly system that will promote accurate, secure, legible, and quickly accessible domestic violence reports,” Fitch said in a statement. “We have made it as easy as possible to get the information they need when (law enforcement officers) arrive on-scene and to protect victims throughout the process.”

In addition to detailed information about the victim, abuser, their relationship and any alleged abuse, officers can also upload photos and identify injuries on an interactive image of a body.

“If they (officers) take pictures with their phone, they can immediately upload it into their report which means we don’t lose (evidence) between the time the officer responds and when they get back to the office to make the report,” said Sandy Middleton, the executive director of the Center for Violence Prevention. “It’s a huge advantage.”

There is also a field for the Lethality Assessment Protocol, a questionnaire officers can use on the scene of a call to determine whether a victim is in immediate danger and link her with resources.

Real-time access to the database, called the Mississippi Domestic Violence Reporting (MDVR) system, will also mean law enforcement will be equipped with more information when responding to dangerous calls. The system allows officers to look up addresses and determine whether there have been prior incidents and the specific details of what happened.

This context is important: Domestic abuse and the risk a victim faces are centered around patterns of behavior and a build-up of power and control by the abuser over time. Without that historical knowledge, police officers can’t accurately assess how dangerous the abuser is — not only to his victim, but to the police officer.

“It’s a huge shot in the arm for officer safety,” said Pearl Chief of Police Dean Scott, noting domestic violence calls are the most dangerous for law enforcement. “It gives the officer the ability to know the background and send multiple units for strength in numbers.”

Court clerks also have access to the database and can upload information such as bond conditions and other relevant information about the abuser or victim, said Michelle Williams, chief of staff for the attorney general.

“It can track the whole (domestic violence incident) through the system, including court disposition,” or whether the abuser was convicted, pled guilty or any other outcome.

A recurring theme throughout Mississippi Today’s series “Underreported and Underpunished” was the disjointed nature of domestic violence tracking in Mississippi. After one woman’s abuser was allowed out on bond multiple times despite the law requiring his bond be revoked, a district attorney commented it was likely one municipal court did not know of the abuser’s other charges in another court.

READ MORE: How the criminal justice system fails domestic violence victims in Mississippi.

This system would allow courts to easily determine whether someone has prior arrests or convictions in another part of the state.

The attorney general’s office will also be introducing a new tracking system for domestic violence protection orders, or a court order to provide protection to a domestic violence victim.

“Our protection orders are respected across jurisdiction lines, but in the past we’d have to tell our clients ‘Keep your papers with you,'” said Middleton. “Because if law enforcement doesn’t have access or someone doesn’t enter it correctly, that’s a huge safety issue. The ability to have all that information in one place is a big deal, and we think that it will make a dramatic improvement in the safety of victims.”

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.