ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota House committee on Thursday considered a bill that would expand the use of mobile tracking devices by law enforcement officers trying to locate stolen vehicles and avoid high-speed chases amid an increase in violent carjackings.
The bill, drafted by Democratic Rep. Kelly Moller of Shoreview, would allow police to use GPS tracking devices without a court order for a 24-hour period to recover stolen vehicles and prevent high-speed chases. Current state law requires law enforcement officers to have a warrant from a judge or the consent of the vehicle owner before they can use a mobile tracking device.
“These lawsuits pose a risk to public safety, risking the lives of innocent drivers who are on the road, officers trying to stop these cars and anyone in these stolen cars,” Moller said during the hearing. “When these high-speed chases are canceled for security reasons, the suspect is not apprehended and the evidence needed for a subsequent pursuit is lost.”
Ramsey County Deputy Sheriff Mike Martin told lawmakers the current process for officers is to contact registered owners of vehicles, which he called a “cumbersome” process that often results in the inability to to join them. If the new bill passes, he said officers could use tracking technology that they could stick to a vehicle during their pursuit, allowing them to track the car and recover it later.
The proposal comes amid a wave of violent carjackings that continues to flood the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, reflecting a nationwide increase. There were two such incidents at the end of December, when a man was shot dead during a confrontation with car thieves and when thieves followed a woman home and tried to steal her car with a child of 3 years indoors.
Hennepin County District Attorney Mike Freeman announced in December that his office would devote more resources, including to attorneys to prosecute auto thefts and an attorney to assist victims as the county has seen an increase in hijackings. car since 2020.
Rich Neumeister, a citizen privacy and open government advocate, said in his testimony against the proposal that tracking devices amounted to a search and should require warrants. He said expanding the use of tracking devices could allow officers to use them in situations other than recovering stolen vehicles, potentially violating Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
“The broad expansion of exceptions as proposed, I submit, is flawed and contrary to Fourth Amendment safeguards. The bill undermines the need for a search warrant,” Neumeister wrote to lawmakers before the hearing. Clearly, installing a tracking device on a vehicle is research.”
Lawmakers have made tackling crime a priority for this legislative session. Senate Republicans have suggested proposals that establish mandatory minimum sentences for carjackings and limit local prosecutors’ discretion to overlook certain low-level crimes.
Moller’s bill passed the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday on an 18-1 vote and went to the Judiciary Committee.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.