Loudoun Chief Deputy John B. Patton remembers the day he left a battered and frightened woman at her home while her estranged husband and attacker was on the loose.
Patton had helped the woman file criminal charges and urged her to find shelter with family or friends, but there was little more he could do. Not long after, the woman's husband followed her and beat her again. Now Loudoun officers have another option.
Police in Loudoun and Vienna this month joined the growing list of localities that offer domestic violence and stalking victims a free cellular phone that makes a call to police always within reach. There are similar programs in Fairfax, Prince William, Alexandria and Arlington.
The phones used by Loudoun and Vienna--part of the nationwide "Call To Protect" program--also provide round-the-clock access to a state-run counseling hot line and a police non-emergency line. Motorola donated 35 phones to police in Loudoun and five to Vienna authorities. Cellular One is donating the air time for the phones.
"A wireless phone can provide a victim with a sense of security," said Loudoun's Victim-Witness Program Coordinator Julie A. Carlson. "It's about taking back control."
In fast-growing Loudoun County, victim-witness workers this year handled about 250 domestic violence cases as of Sept. 30, compared with about 230 cases in all of 1998, Carlson said. Vienna Police Officer Virginia Palmore said officers there handle as many as 150 domestic violence calls each year.
Vienna officers have handed out one phone since they began the program early this month, Palmore said. The recipient, a woman who has been in an abusive relationship, hasn't had to use it yet but she has told police she feels safer just having it in arm's reach.
"Call To Protect," a partnership launched in 1996 among Motorola, the Wireless Foundation, cellular carriers and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has distributed about 9,000 phones nationwide, according to Cellular One spokeswoman Elissa Lumley.
Fairfax County, which started its program in 1998, has been held up as a national model for other jurisdictions that might want to begin their own program.
To date, the county has given out 70 phones. The victims "keep it as long as they need it," said Officer Ed O'Carroll, who coordinates the cellular phone program in Fairfax. "Unfortunately some of the phones we gave out a year ago are still in the hands of those victims. They still live in a world of violence. They need that phone as their lifeline to the police."
Police in Alexandria started their program in 1996 with only eight donated phones. Today the department has more than 100 phones in its arsenal, about half of which are in the hands of women who feel threatened.
There have been several instances, police said, where women involved in the program have probably been spared from violence because they had a cellular phone.
"In one case the victim was waiting in a car and [her abuser] got her around the neck through an open window and started to strangle her," said Sgt. Scott Gibson, coordinator of the Alexandria police department's Domestic Violence Unit. "She was able to pull out her phone and the sight of it made him run away."
Arlington started giving out phones in 1997. Since that time, the popularity of the program and a wealth of donations, has boosted the county's cache of phones to more than 100. About half of those phones are on the street. Officials said they have so many phones that they encourage users to keep them indefinitely.
To qualify for the program, "They [just] need to want one," said Karen Crane, a domestic Violence specialist in the Arlington commonwealth's attorney's office. "We don't prioritize because we have an ample supply."
Prince William started their program in 1998 with 45 donated phones. Today they've passed the 100 phone mark.
To get a phone, officials in Prince William said a victim much have action pending in court, a history of abuse or current assault charges going through the judicial system. So far, the county hasn't turned anyone away.
"We've even loaned phones to Stafford County residents because there is no cell phone loan program there," said Patricia Allue, director of the Prince William County Victim Witness Program. Allue said that at least five women have used their phones to call for help in the last year. "We tell them to keep the phone for as long as they might need it, until their safety is no longer an issue."