What is a Civil Standby? Historically, when someone needed to show up to a situation that had the potential to turn violent, aggressive or troubled, the local sheriff or officer was called to show up and make sure that the situation remained “civil”. Modern “civil standbys” are an extension of this concept. Officers are called not to show up and investigate a crime; but, rather, to manage a hostile situation, or in the case of Protection Orders (PO) or No-Contact Orders (NCO) to provide a legal exception to otherwise banned contact so a party can collect their essential belongings. In Washington, when a court or commissioner decides to prevent someone from accessing his or her residence or belongings by entering a Protection Order in a civil setting, or No-Contact Order in a criminal setting, a defense lawyer can ask the court to authorize a civil standby for a police escort so that they can pick up their necessary belongings without violating the judge's order and committing a crime.
How do Civil Standbys work? In Washington, depending on what jurisdiction your belongings are in, each police department has a different approach. For civil standbys, you call the local NON-EMERGENCY number; and, in general, the dispatch will ask you to wait in the vicinity where your belongings are (without violating any distance restrictions of the Protection Order or No-Contact Order) until an officer can be dispatched to assist. I have had clients wait 15 minutes, I have had clients wait 2 hours … it all depends on the department, on the number of emergency calls and on the number of officers on duty that day. I recommend doing a civil standby on a weekday during the daytime. Calling the non-emergency number on your cell number assures there is a readily available record of why you are waiting in a car in the geographic area and prevents someone from claiming you are stalking them or trying to harass them when you head into the area. Call and confirm this process before you start driving. As a defense lawyer, I always recommend that you bring a neutral third party, or parties, with you. This assures that there is a witness present to wait and help collect your belongings, vouch for you and make the whole process easier.
Generally, civil standbys allow you to take your necessary belongings, not all your belongings. A police officer is not going to wait 6 hours while you empty your house. In our experience, in the Puget Sound area of Washington, police officers generally give an individual and their friends, about 15-30 minutes to grab what they can, depending on case load and number of officers on duty. Remember, an officer is there to “standby”, and will not make decisions or intervene so using as much forethought as possible is always a good idea.
If there is a dispute about property, simply have your witnesses there to make note of it, take a photo of the item and leave the disputed items there. Discuss your options for retrieving that property you're your attorney later. This issue can be sorted out in a number of ways, but there is no perfect answer to this situation at present other than to document any misuse of the legal process or destruction of property to be bought up at the right time in court. Certainly, someone claiming to be a victim, but who is actively interfering with the removal of belongings that are legitimately not theirs; or, better yet, destroying them, is not acting like a victim. These are the sorts of facts that eventually can become relevant and are worth documenting.
Finally, it situations where a NCO or PO have been issued, if the protected party contacts the respondent, only the respondent will suffer legal consequences. As a respondent, if you are concerned that the protected party will try to contact you, it can be very helpful to keep a daily/hourly log as to where you go, who you were with, and what occurred while you case is pending to rebut groundless accusations. Above all else, follow the terms of the protection order or no contact order. Violating the order can result in additional criminal charges.