INVESTIGATION: WPD has no policies on use of Stingray

The Wilmington Police Department has no policies on the use of the controversial cell phone tracking technology known as "Stingray"
The Wilmington Police Department has no policies on the use of the controversial cell phone tracking technology known as "Stingray"

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Wilmington Police Departmentpolicy manual is filled with sections on many aspects of the job, includingmeal break procedures, feigning injuries and inappropriate jokes.

But when it comes to using ahighly confidential piece of equipment that has civil liberties proponents upin arms over the potential invasion of an innocent person's privacy, the WPDhas no policies on how to use this equipment.

AWECT investigation found that the WPD has spent over half a million dollarssince 2008 to purchase, maintain and upgrade the equipment known in law enforcement circles as Stingray, whichacts as a fake cell tower, tricking your cell phone into sending your locationand call histories to the police.

This equipment has come under fire in recent months, both bylocal defense attorneys and national freedom advocates, questioning the truelimits of the technology.

WECT filed a public records request with the WPD last month,asking for any policies or guidelines whichshow how the department uses the equipment, and any restrictions on when,where, how and against whom the equipment may be used.  The City Clerkresponded by only saying "no documentsresponsive to this request."

The WPD has refused to answer any direct questions from WECTabout the equipment, instead only releasing a statement about how they use theequipment.

"Thecollection of cell tower records is only performed after required WilmingtonPolice approvals are received in the specific investigation, and only after theappropriate court order is obtained from a court. If the records obtained aredeemed relevant, the specific records are made part of the investigative casefile." 

In our public records request, we also asked for copies ofany search warrants that were obtained before using the equipment. Again, theWPD was not able to produce any records, saying that every single searchwarrant had been sealed by a judge. 

"Thesewarrants are sealed. Even if they were not, this information would be part ofcriminal investigative files and is protected from production under the NorthCarolina Public Records Act," wrote Clerk PennySpicer-Sidbury. 

According to the public records act, unsealed searchwarrants that have been returned to the court are public record. We've reachedout to the city and the WPD to find out why they think that is not the case. We have not heard back yet.   

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