AG Grewal Issues Directive to Law Enforcement on Appropriate Use Of COVID-19 Information From Public Health Officers
TRENTON—Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today issued a directive to law enforcement officers across New Jersey to provide clear guidance on appropriate use of information from local public health officers about positive COVID-19 tests in order to safeguard the health of officers while also protecting the privacy of those who are ill.
Over the last number of days, law enforcement agencies raised concerns with the Attorney General about the need for limited information regarding addresses where an individual has tested positive for COVID-19, to better ensure that officers can appropriately protect their health and safety when responding to calls at those addresses. To address these concerns, the Attorney General’s office immediately engaged with the New Jersey Department of Health (DOH). In response, on March 18, 2020, DOH issued a memorandum to all local public health officers instructing them to share such limited information about addresses where an individual has tested positive for COVID-19 (but not the names of any individual), as authorized by the State’s Emergency Health Powers Act, but at the same time restricting the use and dissemination of that information.
Attorney General Grewal today issued Directive 2020-1 (“Directive”), which provides more specific guidance to law enforcement on how they can protect themselves with this information while respecting the confidentiality of this health information. The Directive explains that while “all law enforcement officers know [to] take precautions to protect officer health and safety in all interactions, we also know that law enforcement agencies face a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and must have all the relevant information to help put our PPE to best use and to best promote officer safety.”
“Our police officers are courageously stepping up to protect the public—faced with the coronavirus as well as the ever present dangers of their jobs—and they deserve all the help we can offer to keep them healthy,” said Attorney General Grewal. “By alerting officers as to these risks, we enable them to guard their own health and make the best possible use of our limited supplies of personal protective gear. Make no mistake, our officers will respond to every call for service, regardless of the threat, but this directive and the Department of Health’s memo will ensure that they are better prepared to keep everyone safe, and that they fully maintain the confidentiality of those who are ill.”
Attorney General Grewal thanked Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli of the New Jersey Department of Health for her collaboration on this initiative and leadership in the efforts to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AG Directive ensures that the limited information provided to law enforcement by local public health officers pursuant to the DOH memorandum will be available only to officers while they are responding to a call for service at an affected address and will never be further disseminated.
Law enforcement officers may only use this information received through the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system for the limited purpose of protecting their health and safety and the health and safety of other officers responding to a call for service at an address where an individual has tested positive for COVID-19.
No state, county, or municipal law enforcement officer may use this information as a basis to refuse a call for service.
Directive 2020-1 is posted at the link above.
Today’s Directive marks the Attorney General’s second statewide law enforcement policy document regarding the COVID-19 response. On March 16, 2020, Attorney General Grewal issued guidance to the state’s police chiefs and other law enforcement executives on a number of issues, including best practices for officer safety, staffing challenges, and charging decisions during the public health emergency: https://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases20/pr20200316b.html