Public Defender wants proof of legal WPD surveillance
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Wilmington Police Department's use of Stingray surveillance equipment is causing concern for local attorneys. The technology can track a person's location by acting as a cell phone tower.
The New Hanover County Public Defender's Office recently said it would be probing the surveillance methods.
The woman behind the investigation sat down for the first time Friday for an interview about the situation.
"If there's nothing to hide, they need to be honest about how they're using the equipment with the prosecutors and the public," said New Hanover County Public Defender Jennifer Harjo.
Harjo has been New Hanover County's Public Defender for seven years.
She said she hasn't seen proof of stingray surveillance use in the six years since WPD purchased the equipment in 2008.
"I have not seen any court order. I am not aware of what judge they have received a court order," Harjo explained.
Harjo said she has no problem with the use of technology, as long as it is being done legally.
"If it's a good tool for reducing crime and arresting violent individuals than they should use the tool, but there should not be any hesitation in there honesty about how they're using it or under what circumstances they're using it," she explained.
The WPD has previously said they're tracking phones legally and they are not infringing on the rights of civilians.
"My discussions with the city attorney and the assistant city attorney have been very clear to me that any time we use this technology, we have to obtain a court order," said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo.
District Attorney Ben David said those court orders in question may come to light soon.
"I do want to put this into a courtroom and I think there's a couple of cases that we have that are in the pipeline right now that will bring this issue to the public's attention more," said David.
Harjo is already at attention and she wants proof these court orders for surveillance exist.
"We want them to protect us appropriately. We don't want them to spy on us inappropriately, and we want to trust them," she said.
Harjo said she would be making public records requests for court orders mandating use of the Stingray technology.
She explained that she will also ask investigators to provide proof of any use of the equipment during future court cases.
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