WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Five days after the public learned Wilmington Police use secret surveillance equipment in the fight against crime, the department is finally speaking out.
“Location information is a vital component of law enforcement investigations at the federal, state and local levels,” a news release from WPD spokeswoman Linda Rawley. “As a general matter, the Wilmington Police Department does not discuss specific techniques used by law enforcement to obtain location information, as they are considered investigative sensitive, the public release of which could harm law enforcement efforts at all levels by compromising future use of the technique.”
Last week records revealed Wilmington is one of the few departments in the state to own devices called StingRay, Harpoon and others. Groups like the ACLU question the Constitutionality of the equipment which allows officers to track down someone’s cell phone.
“The Wilmington Police only collects and maintains information that has investigative value and relevance to a case, and such data is retained in accordance with controlling state law,” Rawley’s release continued. “The Wilmington Police does not keep repositories of cell tower data for any purpose other than in connection with a specific investigation. The collection of cell tower records is only performed after required Wilmington Police approvals are received in the specific investigation, and only after the appropriate court order is obtained from a court. If the records obtained are deemed relevant, the specific records are made part of the investigative case file.”
Defense attorney and state senator Thom Goolsby said he has never received information about the use of such equipment in criminal cases in Wilmington.
Recently New Hanover County Public Defender Jennifer Harjo wrote to several area defense attorneys asking for any information they had on the devices as she investigates their use.
When WWAY asked WPD for comment last week about the surveillance equipment, Rawley referred us to the FBI, which says it protects information about the sensitive devices and requires local agencies to do the same.