Rallings defends police use of addresses of those with COVID-19 virus

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 14, 2020 8:05 AM CT | Published: May 11, 2020 2:28 PM CT

Memphis Police director Michael Rallings defended on Monday, May 11, his department’s use of information about those who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

The information is being released to local law enforcement and fire departments across the state by state health officials.

A memorandum of understanding between the state and the Shelby County 911 board has been in place for the information, which includes addresses of the individuals, according to Rallings.

A copy of the agreement reads that the agreement is agreed to and takes effect April 7.

At the daily press conference of the local COVID-19 task force, Rallings said the information about a person with the COVID-19 virus is given by police dispatchers in address form only. The person’s name is not used.

“It’s interesting that weeks ago the media was interested in the number of first responders who tested positive and were concerned our first responders could expose the public,” Rallings said. “A few weeks later, when the state and federal government has taken action to protect first responders, now some are criticizing that effort.”

So is the Tennessee Caucus of Black State Legislators, which has called on Lee to stop the state’s release of the information to police agencies.

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Democratic state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, the chairman of the caucus, says the group fears police will use the information for other purposes and that it might cause people to hesitate to get tested for the virus.

Local health officials have acknowledged that the effort to broaden testing has been challenged by those who refuse to be tested because of conspiracy theories on social media as well as concerns the health department’s information could be used to target immigrants for federal prosecution.

Hardaway said Lee has pledged to work with the caucus to find other solutions to the dilemma.

“Let me just make it clear. We have to protect our first responders,” Rallings said. “When you think about it, at the peak we had 31 police employees who tested positive and 269 have returned from being on quarantine. The one question I have for our listeners in the media is who responds to 911 calls when we run out of first responders?”

Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, disputed that the information is for the safety of first responders.

Black Caucus seeks end of COVID-19 identity sharing with law enforcement

“First responders should always be taking precautions when entering any home and the state should ensure that they have the necessary protective gear to do so,” Weinberg said in an email statement. “Disclosing the personal information of individuals who will never have contact with law enforcement raises fundamental concerns about privacy without yielding a significant public health benefit.”

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris told The Daily Memphian he sees problems with the disclosures to police and that county government is not participating in an agreement with the state for the information.

Memphis Fire Director Gina Sweat says her department, which includes emergency medical services responders, also uses the information and likened it to information dispatchers send fire and ambulance units about buildings or properties where hazardous substances are stored.

“This is not unusual,” Sweat said at the Monday briefing.

Police dispatchers routinely have information about addresses at or near locations where police have had problems in past calls, including citizens with mental issues. But those locations are marked based on past police calls and not health or medical records.


COVID-19 Michael Rallings Tennessee Caucus of Black State Legislators Hedy Weinberg

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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