A coalition of Minnesota law enforcement organizations has asked Gov. Tim Walz to re-examine the process of sharing COVID-19 location information with first responders, calling the current system "inefficient, ineffective and unsafe."
Since Walz issued an executive order allowing for more sharing of infection data, the Minnesota Department of Health has created an overcomplicated process and is disseminating the data with long lag times, according to a letter from the police groups sent to Walz late last week.
"Although our organizations were pleased and grateful when you issued [the executive order] on April 10, 2020, mandating the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) share this information, we are extremely disappointed in the process MDH has created to collect and distribute the information," it says.
The letter is signed by leaders of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Sheriffs' Association and Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. Collectively, these organizations represent about 11,000 law enforcement agents in the state.
Walz announced the executive order in response to calls from the same three organizations. The law enforcement groups said the step would streamline communication and allow first responders to take precautions at addresses with infections, and in turn prevent the spread of the virus among front-line workers and the public.
In a statement Tuesday, Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann said: "Governor Walz recognizes the need to protect first responders, who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The departments of health and public safety are working on providing the information necessary to law enforcement to keep our first responders safe and that also protects people's private data."
The law enforcement letter states that health officials have added an unnecessary step of alerting patients and obtaining consent before their data is shared. And 911 dispatchers have received only a small fraction of data at this point from metro counties that have collectively reported more than 1,700 positive cases, according to the letter.
"The numbers are not adding up at all," said Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, in an interview Tuesday.
The letter says the law enforcement groups are "very aware and sensitive to the privacy concerns," but they believe safeguards built into the original protocol are enough to protect the information without the health department's extra steps.
"Our organizations believe the intent of your [executive order] was to protect the health and safety of first responders, but that is clearly not happening because of the hurdles put in place by the Minnesota Department of Health," the letter says. "We ask that you revisit this issue immediately, review the process for sharing information and help find a solution that will protect first responders and prevent the spread of the virus across the state."