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September 26, 2009

Without warrants, police use trackers to follow suspects

After a three-month investigation, the Register can reveal today that multiple local law enforcement agencies are using satellite-based tracking devices, without warrants, to keep a record of where and when suspects under investigation drive.

The devices use the same Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites that portable navigation devices and cellular phones use to give directions, but these devices are used in a much different manner, a practice that has members of the local legal community concerned.

The Central Kentucky Area Drug Task Force, a joint agency comprised of officers from the Madison, Clark, Garrard and Jackson sheriff’s offices and the Berea Police Department, has spent nearly $18,000 over the past two years to purchase a variety of systems designed to allow officers to track the movement of vehicles covertly using GPS satellites.

Task force director Rick Johnson confirmed in an interview that his agency does own three of the devices, and has used them, but declined to give any specific details beyond stating that they were installed without obtaining warrants.

Johnson also said during the course of his interview that Commonwealth’s Attorney David Smith, whose office prosecutes all felony cases in Madison Circuit Court, was not being notified of the use of GPS trackers “because he hasn’t asked which cases they’re being used in.”

“It’s not something we’ve intentionally tried to hide from prosecutors,” Johnson said.

Smith said he expected information of that nature to be submitted to his office without prompting.

“I would think that it should be included in his case report,” Smith said.

A proposed order has been tendered to Madison Circuit Judges Jean C. Logue and William G. Clouse for consideration that would require disclosure of the use of such devices, Smith said.



What is it?

The vast majority of the task force’s spending has been on equipment from Coleman Technologies Inc., a Florida-based firm whose Web site touts its “AGenT” tracking devices as “small, lightweight, ruggedized, reliable, easy-to-use and easy-to-install robust GPS tracking devices which are specifically designed and built for the exclusive use of the law enforcement community.”

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