Three arrested, more than 50 orders of protection cleared in two-day domestic violence sweep in Winnebago County

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Oct. 26 results of a joint operation with Rockford and Winnebago County law enforcement as part of her “Serve to Protect” initiative to ensure protections for survivors of domestic violence. 

Over two days last week, investigators from Madigan’s office and local and county law enforcement authorities cleared more than 50 orders of protection against domestic violence perpetrators in Winnebago County.

In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Madigan spoke in Rockford with authorities from the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s and Sheriff’s Offices and the Rockford Police Department about their collective efforts to reduce the number of unserved orders of protection in Winnebago County. These court orders are among the strongest protections afforded to domestic violence survivors, but if they go unserved on the offender, they offer no legal protection. 

“Domestic violence is a devastating crime with serious consequences,” Madigan said. “I am committed to ensuring that every survivor who takes the courageous step of seeking help from the court receives full protection of the law.”

The Attorney General’s “Serve to Protect” initiative aims to reduce the number of unserved orders throughout the state. There are currently more than 27,000 active orders of protection, but 4,500 — or 17 percent — of those orders are unserved. In other words, the orders have no legal standing.

In Winnebago County Oct. 19-20, Attorney General investigators worked in conjunction with “Operation Clean Sweep” agencies to target 107 unserved orders of protection. Of those orders, investigators served 34 orders on offenders who had been avoiding service and cleared an additional 23 cases that did not need service because of offenders being served in open court or deaths of offenders. Investigations into the remaining unserved orders are ongoing. Investigators also made three arrests on outstanding warrants during the course of the initiative.

Orders of protection usually restrict the defendant’s ability to contact or communicate with his domestic violence victim. After a court issues an order of protection, law enforcement officers must serve the order on the abuser. Once an order of protection has been served, law enforcement can arrest an abuser if he violates any of the order’s terms. But if an order of protection is not served on the abuser, it does not take effect and, thus, leaves law enforcement unable to arrest an abuser when he violates the order.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato said: “Protecting domestic violence victims is a priority. Collaborative measures produce results. I applaud the results of this operation, and I also personally applaud Attorney General Madigan and her leadership.”

Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers said: “Operation Serve to Protect is part of an ongoing commitment by my office to protect domestic violence survivors throughout Winnebago County. I am proud to stand with Attorney General Madigan today to bring the issue of domestic violence and the prevention of these crimes in our county to the forefront.”

Domestic violence is a serious but often concealed threat in communities in Illinois and across the country, Madigan said. Over their lifetimes, one in four women will be abused by their partner, and every day nationwide, four women die at the hands of their abusers.

Karen Gill, vice president of operations for Rockford’s Remedies Renewing Lives, said: “We’re grateful for the assistance of the Attorney General and the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office in improving service of orders of protection. Each order of protection served increases the likelihood of victims’ safety.”

The initiative is the latest effort Attorney General Madigan has undertaken to improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence and to bring this often hidden crime out from behind closed doors. Her office has held dozens of training sessions on Illinois’ domestic violence laws, teaching authorities and advocates the signs of domestic violence, and secured funding for local prosecutors to increase the prosecution rates of domestic violence crimes. Madigan has also championed the rights of crime victims, giving voices to domestic violence survivors and ensuring they have the support and protection they deserve.