Your Tax Dollars At Work: Cops Use Stingray To ALMOST Track Down Suspected Fast Food Thief

from the all-investigative-eggs-put-in-one-technological-basket dept

Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, secured through Homeland Security grants, to buy repurposed military technology, which is then put to use to hunt down… fast food thieves.

Many agencies say national security and the need to protect an investigatory tool prevents them from talking about cell site simulators. That extends to the cases themselves.


It’s unclear how many cases had links to national security. Logs released by some agencies do not explicitly cite national security but instead include violent crimes such as homicides and rape; others were more routine crimes, including burglaries, assaults and auto theft.

Equipment costing at least $125,000 plus the hourly rate of officers trained to use it. What’s the ROI on this investigation, especially considering the suspect wasn’t located?

Annapolis Police couldn’t find their target in the case of a Pizza Boli’s employee who reported being robbed of 15 chicken wings and three subs while out on delivery in March. In that case, police got a court order, according to the police log.

The value of the wings and subs totaled $56.77.

According to the Capital News Service investigation, in the seven counties closest to Baltimore and Washington DC, agencies have spent nearly $3 million on Stingray equipment. While the word “terrorism” often appears on applications for funding grants, there’s no evidence the devices have ever been deployed in terrorism investigations. Instead, the most popular use for the devices is to fight the drug war.

Law enforcement spokespeople will often point to the handful of homicide or kidnapping investigations successfully closed with the assistance of cell site simulators, but they’ll gloss over the hundreds of mundane deployments performed by officers who will use anything that makes their job easier — even if it’s a tool that’s Constitutionally dubious.

Don’t forget, when a cell site simulator is deployed, it gathers cell phone info from everyone in the surrounding area, including those whose chicken wings have been lawfully purchased. And all of this data goes… somewhere and is held onto for as long as the agency feels like it, because most agencies don’t seem to have Stingray data retention policies in place until after they’ve been FOIA’ed/questioned by curious legislators.

Regular policework — which seemed to function just fine without cell tracking devices — now apparently can’t be done without thousands of dollars of military equipment. And it’s not just about the chicken wing thieves law enforcement can’t locate. It’s about the murder suspects who are caught but who walk away when the surveillance device wipes its feet on the Fourth Amendment as it serves up questionable, post-facto search warrants and pen register orders.

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Comments on “Your Tax Dollars At Work: Cops Use Stingray To ALMOST Track Down Suspected Fast Food Thief”

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Groaker (profile) says:

LEO’s have a fetish fantasy for technology. Like people who think they can violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics, LEO’s believe that technology will reach a point where no effort will be required to commit a crime. That as soon as a law is broken, the perpetrator will turn themselves into the nearest police station.

It might very well be difficult to discern the difference between the police that are at the station to work, and those trying to turn themselves in.

Roc Rizzo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You forgot to mention cops lying under oath.
Even if they do their work, in the end, they can just lie in court, because people will believe a police officer sooner than they would John Doe. Police have used this to their advantage for quite a long time.
This is demonstrated in this editorial piece from the NY Times from February 2013:

Vidiot (profile) says:

Not just the hardware

And let’s not forget that a frequent deployment method is aerial… a small plane circles a targeted area for hours and hours. So… add fuel and airframe charges to the Stingray cost. And something for that agency pilot, who’s not really drawing anywhere near the minimum wage.

I heard a small plane circling my northern NJ town last week, which is unusual; and thanks to Flightradar24, confirmed not only that it had been there for hours, parked several thousand feet above the very busy Newark approach, but that it was a Cessna 172 known to be registered to a bogus FBI shell corporation. Busy day, too… I spotted two more active FBI spook planes circling Long Island and central Jersey.

Wish they’d stop… if this keeps up, I’ll need a bigger roll of heavy-duty Reynolds Wrap for hat-making…

DannyB (profile) says:

But you should believe James Comey

Yes, in this case, Stingray is used to catch fast food thieves. But this is a national emergency. And people need to realize that they will have to give up some liberty in order to (not actually) have safety.

You can be sure that when the FBI says that if they could force Apple to create a back door into the iPhone, then it would ONLY be used for cases as serious as terrorists with iPhones. (and jaywalkers using iPhones)

Anonymous Coward says:

Three years and counting w/o a cell phone. I went all those years w/o one, and had a pager for a few years in between. Miss it a few times a year and actually know where to find a pay phone. Most usually there is someone with one in an emergency. When I think of the money and aggravation saved it has been well worth it. If you need to get in touch there will be a way. Start taking a bite out of AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and these Keystone cops will cut the shit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Again, not PaulT.

But you know, I can’t help but feel a little threatened by your rather aggressive grandstanding. I fear that there is a chance that you, or someone else, will take your comment to heart and enact violence against me and my family. Oh, I do declare! I certainly hope the authorities will take you in and hold you in their custody for as long as they deem necessary. You wouldn’t complain, would you? After all, based on what you said, there is no guarantee the above would not happen!

Thanks for playing!

Stan (profile) says:

...Fast Food "Thief"

“Pizza Boli’s employee who reported being robbed …”

Robbery is a crime against a person, a serious offense no matter how small the “take”. To call the criminal a thief is to seriously mis-represent the crime. He was not a thief, he was a robber.

Now, do robberies justify a stingray’s use? Maybe, maybe not. But to call it a theft (thief: noun – a person who steals another person’s property, especially by stealth and without using force or violence) does no service to the issue at hand and calls into question the presence of bias.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Could It be General Espionage?

Here are some engineer’s speculations: The most efficient way to use a Stingray is to have a collaboration with the cellphone company. The cellphone company tracks cellphones, in the course of its ordinary operation, and obtains their rough location. Once a Stingray has been brought to the approximate location, it is most efficient for it to function as a fully functional base station, connected into the cellphone company’s network. The Stingray broadcasts a signal, which all cellphones are entitled to rely on, and if it doesn’t meet its protocol commitments, cellphone service may be disrupted. Look at it this way, if a policemen impersonates a postman, he has to actually deliver the mail, otherwise all kinds of complications ensue. He cannot simply throw out letters which are not relevant to his investigation. The most damaging probable revelation for the FBI would be that, in collaboration with the cellphone companies, it was maintaining a database of the movements of every single person carrying a cellphone in the United States for the last five years. That may be what the FBI is holding out on.

Now of course, the most obvious countermeasure to Stingrays is a tinfoil wallet, or else removing the battery, giving up the ability to receive unexpected calls in exchange for un-traceability. Confederates would agree to go on the air at specified times.

Stan (# 15) is correct to note that the case involving the “fast food” was a robbery, not a theft or a burglary. What makes robbery a serious offense is not the amount of money but the employment of violence against persons. There have been cases of robbery in which hoodlums attacked an old lady, and took twenty-five cents, which was all she had. They were punished with proper severity, because when you are seventy years old, getting beaten up is not a light matter. In the case cited in the article, it was actually delivered food, not fast food, and part of the issue was that deliverymen have to expose themselves to crime more than someone working in a store. In a convenience store in a high-crime district, it is understood that the cashier, the money, the cigarettes, the lottery tickets, etc. are inside a bullet-proof cage. When I lived in West Philadelphia, twenty years ago, I regularly bought Shrimp Egg Foo Yung w. Pork Fried Rice at a Chinese take out, for $3.95, though a bullet-proof enclosure. Presumably, the robbers in the present case assumed that the pizza deliveryman would be carrying around money, incidental to selling the food to customers. And presumably, disappointed in this expectation, they at least took his chicken wings, simply as a point of honor, not to have to go away empty-handed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Got you beat.

There was a Nat Geo special a while back showing narcs using a Blackhawk to hunt down weed being grown in California state parks.

Now I don’t know what the exact operating costs are for a Blackhawk, but including depreciation, crew training, fuel, maintenance etc. My guess is these guys were burning at least $10k/hr. to fly around looking for spliff. My guess is the local C.A.P. would have done it for Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.

Oddly, they didn’t seem to even consider that filming this was a bad idea. I’m not sure which I find more offensive, the fact that they did it, or the fact that they don’t see what is wrong with spending a half dozen Toyota’s worth of tax dollars to go on a fucking sight seeing tour.

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