COLUMBIA, MD — Starting today, Howard County's domestic violence victims who are in the gravest danger will get added weapons for their defense: cellular phones. The State's Attorney's Office for Howard County, Md., Bell Atlantic Mobile, Domestic Violence Center, and the Howard County Police Department are launching a program to give victims in continued fear of domestic abuse instant access to 9-1-1, any time, anywhere.

Abused persons who have been identified by the State's Attorney, Domestic Violence Center or the Police Department as being at high risk for future victimization will be issued a free Bell Atlantic Mobile wireless phone. If the person is threatened or attacked by the abuser, or a restraining order is being violated, the police can be alerted immediately.

Last year, there were 2523 calls to 9-1-1 in Howard County reporting incidents of domestic violence, and 712 restraining orders were served by the Howard County Police Department to protect county residents from domestic abusers.

Bell Atlantic Mobile is donating 25 cellular phones and free, hotlined 9-1- 1 calls, valued at $18,000 for the first three years of the program.

"These phones will be a great help to women who are in dangerous relationships or who are attempting to get away from a violent partner," said Domestic Violence Center Director Judy Clancy. "Having the safety- net of immediate access to 911 may give women the courage to leave their abusive relationships."

"We're very grateful to Bell Atlantic Mobile for partnering with us in this effort, since victims of violence will now have immediate police contact, " said State's Attorney Marna McLendon.

"We're trying to do as much as possible to ensure the safety of domestic violence victims here in Howard County," said Howard County Chief Wayne Livesay.

"We're hoping these phones give some peace of mind to people living in constant fear for their safety," said Gary Schulman, president of Bell Atlantic Mobile in the Washington/Baltimore region. "Under these circumstances, the ability to contact police at a moment's notice can literally mean the difference between life and death."

Bell Atlantic Mobile, with corporate headquarters in Bedminster, NJ, and regional headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., is the largest wireless service provider on the east coast and one of the largest in the U.S. The company has a long-standing commitment to contributing to domestic violence prevention programs throughout its service area and will donate $100,000 in goods, services and funds to fighting domestic violence this year alone.