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The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is suing the city of St. Paul to acquire public police data it claims officials have improperly withheld for 18 months.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court alleges that the police department has "unlawfully refused" to provide public information regarding traffic stops, citations, arrests and use of force since at least June 2018.

"Although St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and SPPD Chief Todd Axtell have publicly committed to government transparency and police accountability, the SPPD has not produced information required by Minnesota government data laws," the lawsuit said.

The organization also accused the department of withholding data related to adult and juvenile arrests, the identities of police officers associated with arrests, information on investigative stops and use-of-force reports.

"Police have provided only a fraction of the data the ACLU of Minnesota has been requesting for more than 18 months, even though this data is clearly public under state law," said a statement by David McKinney, a staff attorney at the ACLU. "A full accounting of police activities is crucial to ensure adequate oversight, accountability and transparency, and to understand the scope of racial disparities that are already apparent in the limited amount of data that the police department has released. This information is essential to make sure that all interactions with police are safe and just."

A police spokesman referred the Star Tribune to the St. Paul City Attorney's Office for comment. "The Administration supports the work of the ACLU and has directed the Police Department to provide all available data as soon as possible," said City Attorney Lyndsey Olson.

According to the lawsuit, the department doesn't track investigative stops — even though the department's own manual requires officers to record these stops and give them a case number. Authorities have called its electronic storage system "antiquated" and said it "does not allow for saving an electronic report, or even mailing a report," court records say.

The ACLU counters that the system has technical capabilities to produce detailed arrest and apprehension data to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and accused the police agency of also violating a state law that requires governments to keep records "easily accessible for convenient use."

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648