Police Use GPS Tracking to Aid in Criminal Surveillance

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By Greg Bartlett

The numerous benefits of GPS tracking have been well-documented and law enforcement officials have added to that list of benefits by using GPS devices in the performance of their duties. GPS tracking devices have been used over the past ten years to help police monitor criminal activities. By placing a transmitter on a suspect’s car, they can place that suspect at the scene of a crime or link him with various criminal activity including drug transportation and vehicle theft.

Police Use of GPS

Police Use of GPS

Recent court cases have questioned the use of GPS tracking with regard to a suspect’s privacy rights and many states require a warrant before the device can be placed. Law enforcement departments are happy to comply with this regulation, however, and contend that the devices not only provide accurate information that might otherwise be difficult to obtain, but also save money and man power for budget conscious departments.

Once the GPS tracking device is placed on the car, the transmitter will send a signal to a receiving device which can be monitored by police in order to determine a criminal suspect’s movements. Some devices will provide not only location, but also number and length of stops made, speed, and direction of travel. Since battery life is limited, officers will sometimes connect the device to the car’s power source for more lengthy surveillance operations.

GPS tracking has been successful in helping police track down criminal suspects. One recent case in Massachusetts involved a suspected drug violation. Officers were able to follow the suspect’s movements for eighteen months and finally to arrest him and discover the drugs he was carrying. The court ruled that the officers had complied with all GPS tracking regulations, and a dangerous criminal was placed behind bars.

While the use of GPS tracking in law enforcement has met with many questions and requires several regulations to be met, officers speak highly of the ability it gives them to monitor suspect activity remotely and without long hours of dangerous and difficult in-person surveillance. The debate over whether or not a warrant should be required has not stalled the advances GPS tracking has made in enabling officers to do their jobs safely and efficiently. No matter what the ultimate court rulings on warrants will be, police departments will continue to comply with federal and state regulations while relying on the ability of GPS tracking to complement their law enforcement efforts.

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