When police stop a teenager for smashing a window, stealing a bike, or skipping school, they need to know is if the child is on probation for an earlier crime. Such information can mean the difference between a ticket, a ride home, or a trip to juvenile lockup to see a judge. In Milwaukee, says the city’s Journal Sentinel, officers do not have direct access to county juvenile probation information, a gap that leaves potentially dangerous offenders free and sends a message that the system can be gamed.
It is another hole in the system uncovered in a Journal Sentinel investigation showing how communication failures, breaks from judges, miscalculations by law enforcement, and leniency from prosecutors help offenders elude justice. The only way police can check a juvenile probation record is for an officer to call children’s court and wait for someone to pull the record – impractical for busy beat officers. After hours, access can be slower with just one person handling requests for an entire county. Until last year, requests from police sometimes went to an answering machine.