Newspaper Says Police, Sheriff’s Office Kept Files on AIDS Carriers
PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ Phoenix police and Maricopa County sheriff’s department officials have maintained files on suspected AIDS carriers for at least a year, a newspaper reported today.
Phoenix police said they purged such information from their computer files on July 1 after inquiries by The Arizona Republic, but if a new proposal is approved, they would keep data on AIDS and other communicable diseases.
The Maricopa County sheriff’s office is still maintaining its files, the newspaper said in today’s editions.
The city police department has started an internal-affairs investigation to determine who authorized putting the information into the computer.
AIDS advocacy groups claim such files not only violate privacy laws but could discourage suspected carriers from participating in AIDS testing.
″Certainly there are problems with this from a public-health perspective and a citizen’s rights perspective, especially if the list is inaccurate,″ said Doug Hirano, AIDS Project manager for the state health department.
But some police officials contend that such information is essential to the safety of officers in contact with suspected carriers of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
″I can look at it from the standpoint of protecting the officer’s safety the same way I look at a concealed weapon that a suspect is known to carry,″ said Don Russell, records and identification supervisor for Phoenix police.
The Republic said state and county health officials denied they were sharing AIDS testing information with police.
Judy Schroeder, supervisor of the sheriff’s criminal-records section, said such health information becomes part of the record when a person goes to jail.
″There’s really nothing that we do here as far as making note of anything like that,″ she said. ″The information is on the records when we get them.″
Information on communicable diseases is limited to brief notations of such diseases as AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis, she said.
Jayne Russell, the sheriff’s jail health administrator, said only coded information is included. ″We would never put that (specific diagnoses) on an inmate’s (jail) record or in the computer,″ she said.
The sheriff’s department information is given to other agencies when those agencies take custody of the inmates, said sheriff’s Capt. Frank Waelde.
Under a proposed policy, Phoenix police would maintain information not only on AIDS but other communicable diseases in computer files.
″Our current policy is sitting up in legal office waiting to be approved before we put anyone in the system,″ Russell said.
Such information would permit police to take precautions to prevent infection, he said.
However, AIDS advocacy groups said the practice of keeping AIDS data in a person’s police file is fundamentally wrong.
″It is outrageous that the Police Department has been carrying that type of information in a person’s records,″ said Bill MacDonald, chairman of the Phoenix-based Arizona AIDS Project. ″I thought there were laws that protect the rights of individuals.″