After burglary, lawmaker pushes for power to ping

TULALIP — A burglary at his home earlier this month has strengthened a state lawmaker’s resolve to let police more quickly track cellphone signals to catch crooks and look for people whose lives might be in danger.

Sen. John McCoy got a firsthand demonstration of how the power of pinging cellphone towers can combat crime.

On July 13, someone broke into his Tulalip home. Early that morning, the burglar stole keys, McCoy’s iPhone, and a rental car parked in the garage.

The couple was home at the time, but didn’t hear the intruder.

McCoy called Tulalip police. When an officer arrived, McCoy used an iPad to electronically track the whereabouts of the missing phone. He relayed to a Tulalip police officer the phone’s movements as it traveled from Snohomish to Everett. The Tulalip officer, in turn, contacted police from other agencies.

State law prevented the officers from pinging the phone on their own and without a warrant, McCoy said.

“I kept them updated because they couldn’t do it” without jeopardizing the investigation, McCoy said.

The suspect, 35, was stopped and arrested in north Everett within three hours of the break-in. Based on information relayed from cellphone towers, it appeared the burglar took an illegal U-turn on U.S. 2, drove to Snohomish and Everett and stopped at 23rd Street and Broadway for a spell.

Ultimately, an Everett patrol officer pulled the car over in the 3800 block of Rucker Avenue. The suspect has previous felony convictions for theft, identity theft, forgery and possessing stolen property. His lengthy misdemeanor history includes three drug offenses.

“It was, ‘Hey, we caught the bad guy. Good. And technology was used to do it,’” McCoy said.

Three months earlier, McCoy’s wife had a cellphone stolen, snatched right from her hands. Police were able to catch up with the suspect that same day after the family used pinging technology to track the missing phone.

McCoy hopes to use his recent experiences to gather more support for legislation that would require wireless companies to provide call location information to police in cases of emergencies involving risk of death or physical harm.

That was the gist of House Bill 1897 during the last session. It didn’t become law.

It is another wrinkle in the ever-evolving debate on how to investigate crime and protect civil liberties in the digital age.

McCoy followed the story of a Kansas family whose daughter was killed in 2007 after she was kidnapped in a department store parking lot. Kelsey Smith, 18, had been in possession of a cellphone that could have revealed her location. It took three days before the telecommunications company provided that information to police.

Laws inspired by the Kelsey Smith case have been passed in more than a dozen states.

Privacy advocates have mounted some opposition.

In Washington state, the American Civil Liberties Union remained neutral on McCoy’s legislation.

“We understand there are valid reasons in an emergency,” said Doug Klunder, an ACLU attorney specializing in privacy cases. “Just as in any emergency situation, cops don’t need to get warrants. Because of that we did not take a position on the bill.”

Washington’s state constitution has strong privacy protections.

A staff analysis of the bill during the last session found: “Although some federal court decisions have held that the government does not need a warrant under the Fourth Amendment to obtain cell phone location data, the analysis under the state Constitution may be different.”

As it stands, prosecutors across Washington advise police to obtain search warrants before seeking cell phone location data from service carriers, the analysis found.

Klunder said it is important to define what is and isn’t an emergency so police don’t overstep their authority.

“In non-emergency situations we do believe a warrant is required and almost certainly a warrant is required by our state constitution,” Klunder said. “…If it’s just the police on a hunch that’s problematic.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

Talk to us

More in Local News

Granite Falls
Prosecutors: ‘Yo mama’ joke led to racist assault in Granite Falls

A man took offense and went into a rage, spewing racist slurs as he beat up a teenager, charging papers say.

Ella Larson, left, and Simon Fuentes sort through blueberries at Hazel Blue Acres on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Fruits, flowers and bees aplenty in Arlington farm fete

First-ever event highlights local growers’ bounty and contributions to local community

The Everett Districting Commission is proposing four adjustments to the city council districts based on 2020 Census data. (City of Everett)
Proposed map shifts every Everett City Council district

Census data from 2020 prompted several “small tweaks” to council district boundaries.

Cars wait to turn onto Highway 9 from Bickford Avenue on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 9 stretch closing for roundabout work next week

Drivers will need to use detours as the closure affects the stretch between Second and 30th streets in Snohomish.

Commanding Officer Meghan Bodnar is greeted by her son Grady, who hasn’t seen her in 224 days, at Naval Station Everett on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After 200-plus days abroad, Navy destroyers return to Everett homeport

The USS Gridley is one of the few women-led ships, attesting to a growing number of women in the U.S. military.

x
Snohomish County eyes another motel-to-shelter project in Edmonds

The $9.1 million plan was announced on the heels of another motel-to-shelter conversion moving forward in Everett.

Community Transit's Lynnwood microtransit pilot project is set to launch this fall with a service area around the Alderwood mall. (Community Transit)
Lynnwood’s microtransit test begins this fall, others possible

Community Transit could launch other on-demand services in Arlington, Darrington and Lake Stevens.

Abortion rights protesters fill all four corners of the intersection in front of the Everett Planned Parenthood in support of abortion rights on Saturday, July 9, 2022 (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
GOP cheered abortion ruling. Democrats responded by voting.

A swell of electoral support for Democrats pushed turnout higher in primary. Republicans look to adjust for November

People begin to gather on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, at the North Mountain Fire Lookout north of Darrington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘A labor of love’: Restoration of lookout north of Darrington now complete

Volunteers spent eight years repairing the 57-year-old North Mountain Fire Lookout. Last week, they gathered to celebrate.

Most Read