Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chief Harteau, promises, promises, and questions

The front page of the Star Tribune local section rang out with the new Minneapolis Police Chief promising "integrity and transparency" for the largest local law enforcement agency in the state.  The agency which has a history of lawsuits, complaints, and in many instances not wanting to comply with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

So a set of questions I would like to ask the new Chief:

Are you familiar with the basics and nuances of the Data Practices Act as it applies to a law enforcement agency?

Explain to the public what transparency means to you?

Do you support collecting information on innocent law abiding Americans?

Can you define what the relationship between you and the Minneapolis Police Union should be?

Transparency is a buzz word which many administrators and politicians promise, but do not implement.  Take for example, President Obama.  Many times it is only an agencies interest to be transparent at their choosing or when they are in trouble.

I have been aware many times when data is clearly public and law enforcement agencies refuses to release it.  They want to fight about releasing it because it may embarrass the agency or administration, but will release public data faster than the speed of light to show the positive things they do.

The Strib story also indicated the Chief  is "reviewing every police unit and function " and wants to do more training.  Two suggestions:

An extensive review regarding the process and procedures as to how the public gains data from the Minneapolis Police Department through the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

Make sure when Minneapolis Police use the many databases the cops have access to, they follow the law.  What will the training for that and the enforcement be?

I hope for the best to the new Chief and more than likely if we have not met before, more than likely we will.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The New Information Brush Off

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Health Care Reform Task Force meeting on November 15th, 2012.  The reason I went was to find out about possible legislation to do away with Minnesota medical privacy laws.

Our state laws are more protective of privacy for patients with consent and give us greater rights than federal privacy laws.  There has been an interest for years by health providers, health plans, and business/professional interests to have our state be "dumbed down" to only have minimal privacy protections and rights.

I saw a letter sent to Commissioner Jesson, Minnesota Department of Human Services, dated October 26, 2012, which asks the Commissioner, Health Care Reform Task Force and the Dayton Administration to consider changes to our state medical privacy laws.  I asked some people who represent groups who signed the letter about it and what it means.  I got responses from we want to HIPAA'ize Minnesota medical privacy laws, in other words do away with protections and rights for patients and follow federal law.  Another person stated we need to change the state law because it is "burdensome and cumbersome", which means less control of your medical information and who it goes to.  Another comment was from one of the largest health providers in the state, we want to consider modifications to change consent provisions.

I asked some members of the Task Force if they were going to pass recommendations that would "dumb down" or do away with our state medical privacy laws.  Some said they were concerned, others said we need changes to be able to share medical data with others without consent.

I went to the head staff person of the Task Force to ask about the medical privacy recommendations that the group is considering.  The first response was "They're online."  I said, I did not ask if they're online or not, but generally what are the recommendations.  Again stated directly to me, "They're online."

The staff person and I went back and forth, with the person stating that they are online at their website.  I then just gave up and indicated to the staff person that the response to a person asking a question could have been much better than saying "They're online."

The government agency website is becoming an excuse in some instances for government not to answer questions that we the public directly ask of it.  This should not be.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

License Plate Readers and the Legislature

The 2013 Legislature will be considering a proposal that takes law enforcement data gathering to new heights.  Sanctioning the use of new technology and making secret the data collected by it.

Automated License Plate Recognition(ALPR)is the new technological tool.  Basically, its cameras set up stationary on places like bridges or light posts.  Another way is to be attached to roving or sitting patrol cars in parts of the city or countryside "sucking" up thousands of license plate numbers.

With this new tool or "toy" of law enforcement becoming known through blog posts and media reports there needs to be full public discussion of its merits, uses, and implications.  Law enforcement officials need to be asked tough questions by the public and policymakers.

As I have been following the issue of ALPR's for a long time I would like to see several questions answered by law enforcement officials-

A. Why do law enforcement agencies such as Minneapolis, St Paul, and others get ALPR's and start the collection of movements of law abiding and innocent people without public discussion?

B. Why did Minneapolis Police who have collected millions of license plate scans on law abiding and innocent people not have any protocols, policies, or procedures until the Star Tribune did its story?

C. What authority do Minnesota law enforcement have to collect millions of records on law abiding and innocent people and then retain it?

D. Why did the City of Minneapolis seemed surprised that the license plate scans were public? Should they not have already known?  The presumption of data being public has been law for decades.

E. Is there a violation of state law in the collection and storage of data on individuals because it may not have been authorized by the legislature or local governing body?

Tough questions to answer.

Law enforcement may say something like this:

"We are granted authority by government to maintain order and pursue the bad guys.  And we will do whatever it takes if it's legal."

The problem with that line of thinking is that it does not allow the the public to "police the police", ask the questions with answers to see if their actions are legal, but also to evaluate if the tactic, effort, or change compromises civil liberties, accountability, and transparency.

Starting in January 2013, the Legislature will gets its chance to weigh in on ALPR's, as the ultimate state body of "Who watches the watcher's?"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Holding Minnesota Corrections "feet to the fire"

I was utterly appalled when I read Paul McEnroe's investigative piece in the Star Tribune this morning about health care and prison inmates.  What came to my thoughts immediately where three things.

1. The arrogance of Minnesota Department of Corrections(DOC)officials not wanting to speak with Star Tribune.
2.  Release of a public statement which raises more questions and need for answers.  From my view an insensitive statement which explains nothing to the public, and
3. Who's running the health care system for people in Minnesota Corrections, the Department or Corizon, who by public contract provides medical services for DOC.

The refusal of either the Commissioner of Corrections or top medical administrators to talk on record about this is insulting to the public who wants accountability and transparency on matters such as this.  Rather than speak with the Star Tribune the DOC release a very generic public statement which seems to come right out of a PR handbook.

I am left with the feeling that nine deaths and millions of dollars paid by the State of Minnesota for negligence of care are "quality of insurance issues" which are "endemic to the health care industry".  The statement goes on to say the DOC meets the "community standard" of care as required by law.  Tell the public DOC what is the "community standard" of care?  Who determines the "community standard" of care?

The Star Tribune story indicates from their reporting that Corizon, formerly, Correctional Medical Services has "broad authority" to run the medical operations.  With this broad authority that Corizon has, who is effectively overseeing the contract?  Are there any independent reviews done by a third party of medical services provided in DOC in the last five years?

I am somewhat confused as to who the prison nurses are ultimately responsible too.  Nurses play an important role in that first attention that is needed for medical service and treatment.  Is there a convoluted relationship with Corizon where nurses serve two masters, the contract company and the State of Minnesota.

Who will take the initiative and responsibility to bring sunshine, ask questions, and bring accountability to the public on this disgusting situation brought to the public's attention?

For starters, the appropriate Committees in the Minnesota Legislature.  Secondly,  Governor Dayton should instruct DOC officials to talk and come forward with the media and public about the situation.

Thanks to the Star Tribune for a great story and their use of the Data Practices Act which is a helpful tool to bring this kind of story to the public.