By Lisa Hagen
BOSTON — Since 2004, Lowell police Deputy Superintendent Arthur Ryan Jr. has been fighting to get officers access to probation records.
One of the problems, he says, is that many people thought law enforcement already had such a tool.
“I talked to people, and they are surprised we don’t have that authority already,” Ryan said. “What works in Lowell is that we have a great relationship with probation officers, but with criminals being so mobile, there are no longer boundaries.”
State Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, who has led the legislative charge to grant police access to records now only open to probation officers, hopes his bill will pick up momentum again this session.
“We have a lot of crime and disturbances in downtown Lowell from people who aren’t from Lowell and shouldn’t even be out after 10 p.m.,” Murphy said. “Nobody knows they have those conditions (placed on them by probation) and they can get away with it.”
Murphy’s bill would allow police officers to call probation offices about an individual and inquire about possible violations of probation conditions.
“If a gang member in Lynn comes up to hang around Lowell and get in trouble and the police officers don’t know about the conditions, police can see what they are,” he said.
Citing gang-related issues in Lowell, Ryan said this bill would help fill the information gap since many criminals, who come from outside communities with unknown records, go unnoticed when pulled over.
“It simply means somebody with a condition of probation, no matter where they go in the commonwealth, that the condition is readily available no matter where they are encountered,” he said.
The bill’s original draft granted police officers the right to arrest individuals if they violated their conditions, but Ryan noted it now only includes sharing information with police officers who can then alert probations officers. He stressed that this bill would not replace probation officers.
Ryan said probation gives offenders some freedom, but those on probation should not break the conditions and go “under the radar” outside of their homes.
“It is a tool that I believe most people expect we already have and a tool that we should have,” Ryan said.
After receiving some initial opposition from chief justices, Murphy said the bill would limit the information that could be shared to curfews, stay-away orders, and substance abuse. It will not include private conditions such as mental-health issues.
William Brooks, chair of the legislative committee for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, also supports the bill that he said would rely on police officers and help enforce probation conditions.
“If a young offender has a curfew and is out of the house after 10 p.m., then nobody but the offender and the probation officer know about the curfew,” said Brooks, a Norwood police chief. “But this bill, you can see that he is out and notify the officer and the conditions have more teeth to them.”
If the bill re-emerges this session, state Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell, hopes other legislators will support the bill, saying it is “vitally” important to help police officers throughout every community.
“We need to give law enforcement tools of the 21st century,” Golden said. “Quite frankly, it is simple common sense about how we can equip officers and this is a very easy way of doing that.”