Police get new access to juvenile criminal records

MILWAUKEE -- Law enforcement officials are keeping a closer eye on underage criminals in Milwaukee after police gain new access to juvenile probation records, and city leaders believe this access could help prevent murders in the city of Milwaukee.

34-year-old Sharon Staples was a mother of seven who was murdered in an August armed robbery attempt. Her accused killer is 16-year-old Mical Thomas. "He had a long history with the juvenile justice system, and that kind of became a spark, if you will," Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said.

That spark started a fire. Milwaukee city and county leaders began a thorough review of the juvenile justice system and found a lack of information sharing at the core of many problems. "If the system had been working all along, there's a possibility that this individual who had been in trouble a lot of times, might have been on a closer level of supervision, or even perhaps still incarcerated," Flynn said.

Now, Milwaukee police will have immediate access to partial juvenile probation records. The youth's full name, warrant information, unique conditions of supervision, and past police contact are some of what officers will be able to have when confronting a suspicious minor. "Our primary concern is always getting information to those who need it most, and that's usually the front line interveners," Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said. "You don't have to be a crime expert to understand that this is valuable information to have," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said.

The Wisconsin State Legislature has attempted to pass similar measures, but they were shot down on the argument of protecting a child's privacy. "While we respect confidentiality of treatment in other records, we enthusiastically support efforts to remove legal barriers to juvenile histories when community safety and community protection is at risk," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Police aren't the only ones benefiting from the agreement. Probation officers will now be notified any time one of their offenders comes in contact with the police. "The more people paying attention to them and knowing who they are, the less likely they can act out with impunity," Chief Flynn said.

Tuesday's move won't be the last: Mayor Barrett expects more recommendations to be announced in the next month, and another bill is moving through the legislative process to give broader juvenile records access on the state level.