Iowa Police Chief Weighs In On Supreme Court’s Warrantless Tracking Decision

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We’ve provided extensive coverage of the recent Supreme Court ruling calling for authorities to first obtain a warrant prior to placing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car. The FBI is merely one of many agencies who have frowned upon the decision, arguing that it is just going to make their jobs more difficult by making it harder to prove the wrong-doings of certain suspects. Others, like Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine, disagree. Regarding the court’s ruling, Hargadine said, “I’m surprised it’s taken this long, and I would agree with the court that this is an invasion of privacy. You’re putting something on someone’s car.”

For years, numerous cities and counties in Iowa like Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Linn, have relied upon GPS tracking devices to track movements of a suspected criminal. In fact, they predict use of these devices will rise in the future. Linn County is one area where they are already obtaining a warrant prior to placing the device, even before the Supreme Court ruling. Other areas, like Johnson County, don’t always make getting a warrant a priority.

This will change, as the added step of asking a warrant be issued is now a requirement thanks to the unanimous decision by the Supreme Court. There have been some complaints from agencies around the country who feel this requirement could impede investigations and keep them from catching the bad guy as quickly as they feel they need to, but Hargadine brushes this idea aside. “The challenge would be if we needed one at 3 a.m. On a Sunday and you’ve got to wake up a judge. That doesn’t always go well.” In his experience, officers receive training on writing up search warrants, and the paperwork tends to move smoothly on its way through the system.

“It makes sense that we’re jumping through the proper hoops,” he said. “You’re always on much safer ground if you’ve obtained a warrant.” Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek is hesitant to agree with this. He doesn’t anticipate big problems with the requirement, but wonders if it will delay certain cases. “It could stall the process a little bit. Sometimes there’s a certain window when you want to put it on. As long as this doesn’t prohibit us from getting in that window, it’s not a problem.”

He points out that most of the time, a warrant is granted without a problem. Officers know best which criminals should be tracked via GPS device and as such, easily prove probable cause. “Obviously, we don’t believe it would be necessary to ever use one on some random vehicle we just wanted to watch,” states Pulkrabek. “We are going to be focusing on a specific case, and we’ll have documentation to show we have a need for it.”

“I want to believe that law enforcement agencies are above board on how they do things and this isn’t necessary,” Pulkrabek admits. However, he continues: “I understand they are trying to make it a little more difficult to make sure law enforcement is crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s.” He adds, “I understand the whole Big Brother issue.”

The bottom line is this: the Supreme Court understands the public’s concern in this matter, and regardless of whether or not they like it, agencies will have to get used to this extra step. Isn’t it better to obtain a warrant regardless of requirement, just to assure the evidence is admissible in court? What a shame to obtain the only proof that exists of a person’s guilt just to find out you can’t use it against them in court.

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Khristen Foss

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