By Greg Bartlett
Law enforcement officers have come to rely more and more on GPS tracking to help them in criminal investigations. GPS tracking has aided in operations ranging from recovery of stolen property to drug busts. Recently, questions have arisen as to the constitutionality of certain actions taken by police officers regarding the use of GPS tracking devices. Some have argued that when the devices are placed in or on a suspect’s car without his knowledge, the action constitutes a violation of privacy. Supporters of using covert GPS technology point out that their actions are no different than having a police officer follow a suspect since the GPS device cannot view the inside of a person’s car or home, but rather simply shows location.
The debate has escalated in recent days as Massachusetts police officers used GPS tracking to follow a man suspected of drug trafficking. The officers were able to determine where the man got his illegal drugs and to pinpoint the location of his vehicle once the drugs were in his possession, leading to his arrest and imprisonment. The Massachusetts Supreme Court became involved when the accused claimed that his constitutional right to privacy had been violated by the placement of the GPS device in his car, and that therefore his arrest had been executed illegally. The court’s decision ruled in favor of law enforcement officers, stating that placement of GPS devices in a suspect’s car, even when the officer needed to break into the car to place the device, did not violate the suspect’s privacy rights as long as the officer had a warrant for his actions.
This decision was a huge step for law enforcement offices, since GPS tracking makes keeping tabs on suspected criminal activities easier, safer and more cost effective. Departments can save significantly on expenses each year since the movements of suspected criminals can be monitored on a computer in the office rather than assigning an officer to each case. Not only are man hours saved, but also fuel expenditures. A single officer can log in to the computer and check the location of each GPS device in real time, or the suspects’ movements can be viewed as a printout notating each stop they made during a specified time period.
Advances in technology continue to make law enforcement work more effective both in and out of the office. The recent ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Court will provide increased safety and cost savings for departments throughout the state.