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Computers to track juvenile offenders

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon unveiled a new program Friday to crack down on the worst juveniles on probation.

Sheriff's deputies will work with Department of Juvenile Justice officials to make sure high-risk juveniles follow their court-ordered probation.

That means law enforcement officers will check to see whether kids attend school, observe curfews or obey other court-ordered conditions.

"We're going to be very pro-active about this," Cannon said. "They'll never know when they may have a knock on the door."

Best of all: The program, thought to be the first of its kind in Florida, won't cost any additional money, Cannon said.

A key part of the new program, dubbed the Sheriff's Assistance in Community Control, is a computer system that contains probation conditions for the county's worst juvenile offenders.

When a deputy runs into a juvenile, he runs the suspect's name through the computer. If the deputy gets a hit, he can note the violation of probation and turn it over to Juvenile Justice for further action.

Department of Juvenile Justice officials said they welcomed the new program. A high case load makes it difficult for their office to keep track of all the juveniles, said Donna Butt, a department supervisor.

There are currently 427 juveniles in Pasco County on probation. Of that number, 37 are entered into the computer.

"There are not enough hours in the day to make contact with those kids," Butt said.

Before the new program, deputies had no way to know whether a juvenile they encountered was violating probation. They would check to see if the person was wanted on criminal warrants, but could do no more.

Now, they still can't arrest a juvenile for breaking a probation condition _ that's a violation of a court order, not a law, and is enforced by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

But by passing on the information to the department, the Sheriff's Office will help build a case against the juvenile that a judge can use to put the juvenile behind bars.

"We know this will have a major impact on the safety of the community," Butt said.