New initiative to provide more options for protective order applications

The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office is expanding access to places where domestic violence and human trafficking victims can file for protective orders.

A new collaboration between the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, the Edinburg Police Department, the Weslaco Police Department and Mujeres Unidas now means the Juvenile/Civil Division at the district attorney’s Edinburg office isn’t the only place where someone can file for a protective order.

“Our office is always striving to find ways to extend our services to victims of crime,” District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. said in a press release. “Many times victims don’t have access to transportation to drive to Edinburg to file for protection or only have a certain amount of time to get away from their abuser.”

Now, there are more options throughout Hidalgo County for a service that unfortunately is in high demand.

Last year, the DA’s office received nearly 1,600 protective order applications.

Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra, Weslaco Police Chief Joel Rivera, Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres and Mujeres Unidas Executive Director Estella De Anda all lauded the collaboration.

Guerra said his department’s crime victim liaisons are ready and trained to meet with victims.

“If you are a victim of family violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual assault, or human trafficking you can come to the sheriff’s office and apply for protection,” Guerra said.

The new collaboration is also on the heels of recent grants awarded to the Weslaco and Edinburg police departments.

In Weslaco, the department was awarded a grant to assist in protective order applications while Edinburg police were awarded a domestic violence grant.

The departments reached out to collaborate with the DA’s office on the grants, which will be spearheaded by Assistant District Attorney Amy Cantu, who is with the DA’s Domestic Violence Unit.

“In 2018, our office attended a conference where the Tarrant County DA’s office explained how they partnered with local police departments to file protective order applications,” Cantu said.

Once Weslaco and Edinburg approached the DA’s office, Cantu said she knew they could emulate that program here in Hidalgo County.

Rivera, Weslaco’s police chief, said in the past his office had to send people to the DA’s office.

“When victims of violence come to our office to file charges we will no longer need to send them to the DA’s office to apply for a protective order,” Rivera said. “Now we will be able to assist them with both protective orders and filing charges.”

Torres, Edinburg’s chief, said crime victim liaisons will be on hand at his department.

“Our crime victim liaison will walk applicants through the process and answer all of their questions,” Torres said. “You must bring with you any police reports, case numbers or any prior court orders you may have in your possession.”

Crime victim liaisons will be present at all of the collaborating agencies.

De Anda, Mujeres Unidas’ executive director, said the collaboration allows victims to complete the process of getting a protection order from their abuser in a trusted, safe place.

“Victims walk through our doors vulnerable and scared, not knowing their options,” De Anda said. “They quickly develop a bond with their victim advocate and are more willing to follow through with what needs to be done to increase their safety and that of their children.”

Rodriguez, the district attorney, said he hopes to partner with every law enforcement agency in Hidalgo County as the initiative grows.

“Victims need to know help is available to them,” Rodriguez said. “You do not have to suffer in silence anymore.”