Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Will Cowtown cell-phone trackers be used based on probable cause, or to obtain it?

The Fort Worth PD insists it was a misstatement, but an internal memo on its new Kingfish cell-phone tracking system said the device could be used for "developing probable cause." Previously the department had said they would only use the device after obtaining a search warrant, which would require obtaining probable cause before using it. Reported a local TV station:
A city memo describing the system's use sounds to some like police will track people's cellphones without first getting a warrant.

"The police department will use the KingFish System, a portable cellphone tracking system, to assist in locating, identifying, developing probable cause and apprehending priority offenders," the memo said.

The "developing probable cause" phrasing caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. Police need to obtain a search warrant first, the organization said.

"Having a neutral party like a judge review and sign a warrant is the safeguard for individual privacy rights that prevents the police from simply using whatever tools are at their disposal to peek at, observe, watch or invade the privacy of folks at will," said Lisa Graybill, ACLU legal director.

But Fort Worth police say the description was misleading. The department always intended to obtain a search warrant before tracking someone, police said.

The department also said that if an arrest came from tracking someone, the district attorney, defense attorneys and a judge would all review the case.
If it was just a misstatement and they really do plan to get warrants, fine. If police intend to use the devices BEFORE they have probable cause, that's a problem. At a minimum they need some written policies on the subject. This was a consent-agenda item which wasn't discussed at all when the City Council approved it, and it sounds like the department's plans for the device and safeguards against abuse aren't as well-developed as they should be.


Anonymous said...

If the cops have the toys they are going to use them warrant or not, as stated in their memo. Search, sieze now, we will make it legal later. They can simply fabricate another story for probable cause, with hold the fact that they tracked a cell phone... DUH! Some of these debates are nice but not reality.

Anybody have percentages of successful suppression hearings by county or Texas wide?

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I think someone has seen too many episodes of NCIS. Now they want to run around tracking cell phones on interactive monitors and apprehending the bad guy. I all for them getting the bad guys, in some cases such as abduction or anything to do with children, I feel there should be a no holds barred attitude toward apprehension. But looking at the legal statutes, it might make good TV but it wont fly in the courtroom. I fear that this tool is going to force officers to lie on the stand because they are going to use the tool if they have it. No doubt about it they will use it if they possess it. I personally have seen many Fort Worth Officers in action and I have seen them acting very level headed and professional, I dont think it's fair to give these officers a tool that will force them to lie about its use, and it will I have no doubt.