Law-enforcement unions alleged Thursday that the naming of officers attending a recent gang conference in Hawaii was illegal and has threatened the officers' safety and their undercover work.

The St. Paul Police Federation and Law Enforcement Labor Services initiated legal action Thursday against the state Department of Public Safety and the Metro Gang Strike Force following release of the names to the Star Tribune.

Also targeted in the lawsuit, which has yet to be filed in Ramsey County District Court, is Chris Omodt, a Hennepin County sheriff's captain who now heads the Metro Gang Strike Force. He has said that the nearly $17,000 cost to the force for participation in the conference was "ridiculous."

The Star Tribune is not named as a defendant in the complaint. It states that whoever released the names to the paper for an April 5 story violated a state data practices act provision protecting the privacy of undercover officers.

"This is clearly, clearly an officer safety issue," said Dave Titus, president of the St. Paul Police Federation. "There's a reason why these members' photos are pulled away from internal sites for our departments -- they're undercover."

He added that he was unaware of any harm to the six officers as a result of the story.

The April 5 piece noted that Ron Ryan, former commander of the Metro Gang Strike Force, had approved sending at least five of the six attendees, and that Omodt, the current commander, learned about the $16,800 tab shortly after taking over the force in January.

"My initial reaction was that, because of the economic times, nobody should be going," Omodt was quoted as saying.

Andy Skoogman, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety speaking for the commissioner, also called the expenditure a "concern."

Omodt could not be reached to comment Thursday. Skoogman said: "We stand by our decision to release the document [containing the officers' names] ... and will let the legal process run its course."

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109