DFCS seeks to access police computers

By Ed Brock

The Clayton County Department of Family and Children's Services is seeking a way to access the county police department's computers for information DFCS caseworkers might need.

Once the system is in place, DFCS caseworkers would essentially be able to type in the address of the residence to which they are about to go and find out what kind of police activity may be going on there, said DFCS Deputy Director Chuck Fischer.

"If we found out that this person also has some weapons charges against them it might be a good idea to call a Clayton County police officer to go out there with the caseworker," Fischer said.

It's a system that Joy Ewing of Jonesboro says is badly needed.

On Nov. 8, 2002, when Ewing's 15-year-old son James "Jake" Ewing McBee accidentally shot himself to death at a house on Country Lake Drive in Hampton, a DFCS caseworker had visited the house at 10 a.m. that morning.

If the proposed system had been in place, Ewing said, the DFCS worker could have known that between Sept. 22, 2002 and the day of McBee's death Clayton County police had been called to the house 21 times. They were responding to calls about gunfire, firecrackers and runaways like McBee.

On April 23 46-year-old Rebecca Kay Whittelsey pleaded guilty to providing a weapon to a minor, reckless conduct, involuntary manslaughter and two misdemeanor counts of having a disorderly house in connection with McBee's death.

Knowing what was on the police department's Criminal Justice Information System computer about Whittelsey may have had an impact on the caseworker's actions that day, Ewing said.

"I'm not saying my son would be here today if we had it. But it's necessary," Ewing said. "Any kind of change to protect any child is better than nothing."

Right now the most likely plan is for some kind of terminal to be set up for the DFCS workers who, after June 1, will occupy a room at the new Clayton County Police Headquarters on the corner of McDonough Street and Ga. Highway 138 in Jonesboro.

But there are issues that must be dealt with first, Clayton County police Capt. Tim Robinson said.

"It's a good idea. However, the problem is limiting them to only information on the children they're dealing with and protecting other cases," Robinson said.

Fischer said DFCS is willing to work on the terms of the arrangement.

"Because of the sensitive nature of the information we would probably have access on a need to know basis only," Fischer said.

Meanwhile DFCS is also hoping to set up a 1-800 number that will allow caseworkers to perform instant background checks on relatives who volunteer to take in children in emergency situations that occur after hours, DFCS Program Administrator Lisa Spivey said. Currently they have to go through the police department, a process Spivey says takes more time.

"There are lots of things on the horizon," Fischer said. "What's trying to be worked out right now are the legalities."