ANNAPOLIS – Old, deactivated cellular phones may seem useless, but for victims of domestic violence, they can be a lifeline.
Since these phones can dial 911 even without paid service, Anne Arundel County officials announced Wednesday they are implementing “Connection for Protection”, a program to place donated phones in the hands of domestic violence victims willing to prosecute their abusers.
One Marylander dies every five days through domestic violence, according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
While it isn’t statewide, Anne Arundel County Sheriff George Johnson said the county program is a step in the right direction.
“This is one small piece that we can do to help end domestic violence in Anne Arundel County and help stem the tide,” said Johnson.
State’s Attorney Frank Weathersbee agreed.
“We recognized a long time ago that domestic violence and violent crimes are connected,” he said.
Two other counties — Howard and Montgomery — already have similar programs for these victims.
Lt. James Dunn of Montgomery County’s Domestic Violence Unit said he doesn’t limit phone distribution to abuse victims.
“I give them out to anyone who asks for one.” That includes senior citizens whose financial situations prevent them from purchasing cell phones to have on hand for emergency situations.
Still, Dunn knows domestic violence victims have a special need.
“Just because you get an order, it, alone, isn’t going to protect them.” He said of “stay-away” court orders. “So, this is one more thing that gives them security.”
Montgomery County’s program began almost five years ago. A couple years ago they started running low on phones, but a recent splurge of community donations brought them “plenty,” he said.
The phones do nothing but connect to 911, provided their batteries are charged.
Now his unit gets about two or three a day. The county has distributed more than 1,000 phones and even had enough surplus to donate about 50 phones to Anne Arundel County’s new program.
“They came and picked them up this morning,” he said.
Anne Arundel County has collected another 100 phones over the last few years, but needs more.
County businesses like grocery stores and libraries, for instance, are needed to volunteer as collection points to receive old phones from customers.
The program is a collaboration of a unique group of individuals: Sheriff George Johnson, State’s Attorney Frank Weathersbee, Victim-Witness Advocate Lou Ann Holland, and 16-year-old Girl Scout Katie McDonald.
“(Cell phones) give the victims peace of mind,” said McDonald, a Severna Park High School junior who’s been a scout for 12 years, “because they’ll have a lifeline there in case they need it.”
In an effort to get her Gold Award, which is “similar to the Boy Scout’s Eagle Award”, McDonald collected about 50 cell phones and got Verizon Wireless involved. Verizon is now donating bins for businesses to collect donated phones.
Holland, a former county victim-witness advocate, became the project’s main organizer for Anne Arundel County after she started collecting old phones on her own and handing them out to victims she met who needed them.
She said she’s glad to see such a combined effort from the county.
“We can donate phones to victims everyday,” she said. “This is a huge step in recognizing domestic violence as a serious issue. It’s a great combined effort.”