Police ask Minnesota lawmakers to use tracking devices on stolen cars

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Public safety and privacy concerns clash at the state Capitol as police groups seek permission from lawmakers to expand their use of warrantless tracking devices on stolen cars amid surge carjackings.

Minnesota law enforcement already uses the devices, which they pull or attach to a car, when the vehicle owner gives permission. But state law prohibits police from using the technology when they can’t find the owner, so law enforcement asks to use tracking devices whenever a vehicle is reported. stolen by its owner.

“I would ask for your support because this is one of the best ways to reduce high-speed lawsuits,” Ramsey County Deputy Sheriff Mike Martin told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing Wednesday.

Carjackings have exploded in the Twin Cities in recent years. In 2021, nearly 650 were reported in Minneapolis, 101 in St. Paul and dozens more in the suburbs. They often lead to chases that endanger police, other drivers and pedestrians, Martin said.

The legislation progressed through two Minnesota House committees and is eligible for a vote in the House, while the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed the vote on Wednesday.

The measure divided the two parties in the divided legislature. He enjoys Republican and Democratic support, but senators from both parties have raised privacy concerns about the government’s watchful eye.

“I think we’re one step closer to an invasion of privacy rights in a way where I think if we break through that barrier, we’ll never go back,” said Sen. Andrew Mathews, R- Princeton.

To address concerns, support added a 24-hour limit, after which law enforcement would have to either remove the tracking device or seek a warrant to continue using it. The House bill already included the 24-hour rule.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office approved the change during Wednesday’s hearing. But that was not enough to dislodge the bill from committee.

Nothing would stop law enforcement from attaching a tracking device to a vehicle parked on the street or in a driveway, even if the stated purpose is to prevent an ongoing police pursuit, critics said.

“I think there are a number of issues that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.

State Sen. Mark Johnson, the bill’s lead author in the Senate, said he was also skeptical of the proposal at first.

“This is a very simple bill. It’s very limited in scope,” said Johnson, R-East Grand Forks.

He and other lawmakers said privacy concerns were overblown.

“We seek to protect the victims,” said State Senator Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove. “The way this bill is written does that because they have to proactively report it’s stolen. They have to cooperate with law enforcement to agree that the property they own can be tracked – because they want them back.”

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