Room to Grow
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Jan 14, 2002
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
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
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
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.