Room to Grow

Eau Claire County, Wis., has taken a counter-intuitive approach to managing

information on juvenile crime.

Rather than erring on the side of caution and keeping a tight lid on

sensitive data within its agencies, officials have decided to create a system

for making the data more accessible throughout the county's justice system.

They reason it this way: The problem with information sharing — concerns

about the privacy of juveniles who could be harmed by information leaks

— is legitimate, but not a deal-killer. It can be addressed by building

controls into the system itself.

The benefit of information sharing, meanwhile, could be compelling,

with the potential for cutting juvenile crime by making sure that individual

agencies have all the available information when deciding how to act on

a particular case.

The county is testing a system known as the Coordinated Agencies Serving

Eau Claire Youth, or CASEcY, through which participating school officials,

law enforcement and courts officers, human services case workers, prosecuting

attorneys and public defenders can access the central Web-based system linked

to agency servers to track youths with juvenile records.

"It allows the right hand to know what the left hand's doing, so we're

all on the same page," said Robert Fadness, director of the county Children's

Court Services, who began thinking about such a system about 15 months ago.

Making a Dent

The city of Eau Claire and the surrounding county — which has a population

of 90,000 and is about 100 miles east of Minneapolis/St. Paul — is fairly

small and somewhat rural, but it occasionally has some big-city crimes.

Last year, there were 2,530 reported juvenile cases, mostly property crimes,

retail theft, sexual assaults and batteries, and other infractions, Fadness

said. Of the total, 219 were violent crimes, which he defined as those involving

physical injury or a weapon, but there were no murders involving youths.

Fadness said the county could make a dent in those figures by using

CASEcY. He said the juvenile justice system is "somewhat fragmented," meaning

that each agency develops juvenile records and information from its own

perspective, but doesn't share them.

For example, a youth could commit several offenses within a year, but

an agency may not know of the juvenile's entire criminal history. Using

CASEcY, a police officer could look up a youth's name and see if he or she

had had run-ins with human services, police or a school official, he said.

With the help of a $50,000 Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant,

a federal grant administered through the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance,

Fadness looked to Emerald Systems Inc., Spooner, Wis., which developed a

similar, but more limited juvenile information sharing system in Minnesota

called JUV E NET. Part of the funds also were used to buy hardware and software

for some agencies.

That system — developed for the Duluth, Minn., police department and

Arrowhead Regional Corrections, a five-county corrections group in northeastern

Minnesota —provides real-time data about juveniles on probation, in detention

and for whom warrants have been issued.

CASEcY is a much more complex system in terms of the number of participating

agencies. As a result, legal issues and guidelines had to be developed on

who can access the system and what can be shared with whom.

Pulling It Together

Fadness said the county is a "little abnormal" in the sense that there's

a good working relationship among all agencies. Everyone was in favor of

sharing information electronically, he said, but each agency was hesitant

to share its own data. Concern was over the confidentiality of the information.

Across six to eight months, representatives and attorneys from the agencies

met numerous times. Each agency developed categories of information it wanted

or would like to see, and concurrently developed a list of information it

was maintaining. A comparison showed what was available and what had to

be developed.

From those meetings, the county developed a 48-level security matrix

showing the varying degrees of access users have to the system. A school

official, for example, may only be allowed access to certain files, while

a court and police official would be given greater authorization.

An interagency agreement governing people's professional use of the

system is also being developed. "Anyone who works in this field is already

professionally, ethically and legally bound by confidentiality," Fadness

said. "That carries over to the use of the system. There's nothing new here

as far as information sharing, it's just that we're doing it through a different

medium."

Information, which is culled from each agency's database server, is

uploaded daily into a Microsoft Corp. SQL Server 2000 on the county intranet.

The system displays information about a juvenile and the incidents with

each agency.

Phil Brandsey, chief executive officer of Emerald Systems, said some

compatibility issues arose, but establishing the network was mostly smooth.

The system provides three levels of electronic message boards for users:

a general one for all system participants; another reserved for county and

law enforcement administrators; and a third just for law enforcement officials.

This way, messages can be sent instantly — for example, to alert people

to recently issued warrants or runaway kids, Fadness said.

Making the system Internet-accessible is a "double-edged sword," Fadness

said. It allows police officers and school officials to view data that was

previously inaccessible, but it also opens the system to possible breaches

of security and confidentiality. But the county and Emerald Systems are

satisfied with the security, Fadness said, adding that they also do security

assessments on the system periodically.

Room to Grow

This system also could be integrated into the Regional Crime Information

System (RCIS) in northwest Wisconsin, an information-sharing network among

counties that taps five databases, including general crime, juvenile, domestic

violence and jail information. By mid-year, RCIS will cover about 23 percent

of the state, Brandsey said. There also have been discussions to expand

CASEcY into three neighboring counties, he added.

Future enhancements could include adding photographs to the database

and providing wireless access from laptops in patrol cars or personal digital

assistants, but that depends on funding. Fadness also said that another

enhancement would be to track youths and the programs administered to help

them. This way, users can see which agencies and programs are the most effective,

a function that could help determine budgets for the programs.

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