Police in the county where the infamous Columbine High School shootings took place are now keeping a database on juveniles after every contact with them, even if no arrest is made.
Housed at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in Golden, Colo., the database had been used prior to the April 1999, shootings for storing juvenile arrest data only. But the tragedy played "a big part," according to sheriff's office spokesman Steve Davis, in instituting a policy of noting non-criminal contacts to establish a pattern of behavior.
"If we [contact] a kid because he is hanging around a grocery store in the middle of a night and then we find out he has been contacted five more times doing the same thing ... we want the officer to be able to find that information," said Davis.
Recent media coverage on the policy prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to do everything short of send up flared rockets in protest.
"Among other things it's creating a blacklist ... a blacklist for standing around," decried Sue Armstrong, executive director of the Colorado ACLU. "Beyond that it is an invasion of privacy that impinges on the right of people to have free mobility, and an overreaction [to Columbine] in terms of infringing on due process."
Armstrong admitted to being a bit shaken because she's "not hearing any other criticisms" outside of her office.
Retired Judge Ted Rubin, who sat on the Denver Juvenile Court, said he had "no fundamental objections if it helps the police make wiser decisions." He said the only "danger" might be a "loose collection of nonprobable cause arrests."
A note of caution came from the director of the nonprofit Jefferson County Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC), also in Golden. The center is helping to create and coordinate a master database that will network juvenile justice data, involving only arrests, funneled to the JAC from 16 police jurisdictions (including the state police and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office). That effort is funded by more than $400,000 in grants from the federal Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant program.
"It may be illegal," said center Director Gerard O'Hare, referring to the sheriff's department recording all contact with youth, then sharing that information as part of the master database. "We have to be careful about very strict federal and state laws concerning sharing information across systems."
After reading accounts of the sheriff department's new procedure, O'Hare said that "if we've gone beyond the criminal [activities], let's get back to [only inputting] criminal" arrests. O'Hare hopes the matter will be resolved soon so that the master database can meet its operational target date of mid-summer.