The Hennepin Board wants more information on the cell phone tracking device before it will ask the feds to fund it.
The Hennepin County Board on Tuesday tabled Sheriff Rich Stanek's request for a cutting-edge tracking device that can pinpoint the location of cell phones, citing concerns about whether it might lead to illegal searches.
Stanek included the tracking device, called the KingFish, among the equipment for which he's seeking federal funding this year. The board approved his other requests for nearly $3.5 million for radio consoles, training and audio-video equipment for the dispatch center.
In all, commissioners approved requests from nine agencies and departments on a list of federal appropriations that will now be forwarded to the county's congressional delegation.
Only the KingFish request, seeking $426,150, didn't make it. Board Chair Mike Opat, who discussed the tracking device Monday with Stanek and a chief deputy, said he still wasn't sure whether it might be susceptible to abuse or whether it was an appropriate tool for the Sheriff's Office.
"It's got a little bit too much Big Brother for me, and I think there are some questions about how you would get search warrants and the like, and whether or not we need it," Opat said.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul has a KingFish device and makes it available to local agencies, said Jill Oliveira, a BCA spokeswoman. Only a few people know how to use it because the training is expensive, she said.
Stanek couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. Kip Carver, a Sheriff's Office inspector who heads the investigations bureau, told commissioners that the device would track only cell phone numbers obtained through a search warrant, and couldn't be used without a court order.
The KingFish can't eavesdrop on phone conversations, Carver said. Instead, it locates cell phones that might be in the possession of an abduction victim, he said, or a robber making a getaway.
"I truly believe [we] would be very busy using that," Carver said. Asked how many times a year the device might be used, he said it could be in the hundreds.
Commissioner Jan Callison agreed to table the request to get more information, but added she was not as troubled by the device as some of her colleagues. "It seems to me that there are certainly ways to make sure this technology is deployed legally. ... It's really the sort of law enforcement that we want," she said.
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said there was still time to get the KingFish request in, even though the board won't meet again until March 2. The deadline for funding requests is in about 10 days.
"It would be helpful to me if you had a letter signed by 10 police chiefs saying this is a heck of an idea," McLaughlin told Carver.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455