Exit133 is about Tacoma

Is TPD Playing Big Brother?

There's some news out today that is a little disturbing to some people on a few levels. It appears that Tacoma Police Department has technology that allows it to collect cell phone information on the public. They've had it for several years, and have been keeping it up to date with the latest cell phone technology. The current Tacoma City Council voted on the resolution that updated the technology last year, but they may not have understood what they were approving.

According to an article from Kate Martin at The News Tribune TPD purchased the surveillance equipment to gather cell phone data in 2007. Martin writes that the equipment, known as "Stingray," can gather information on calls, texts, and data transfers within half a mile of wherever it is located.

It doesn't sound like a finely tuned device. Stingray and its associated data collection technologies take in information on every cell phone in an area that connect to it, and allow the police to filter out what they want. They do that by essentially pretending to be a cell tower, passing data from nearby phones through their systems before passing it on to a real cell tower. Even the product names of this type of equipment evoke a fishing expedition - Stingray and Kingfish, Triggerfish, Amberjack, and Harpoon (okay, so Hailstorm doesn't quite fit). A quick google of the terms shows that Tacoma isn't alone in confronting the not-too-public, perhaps legal-gray-area use of these tools.

TPD's March 2013 request for "specialized technical equipment," which was approved by the current Council, gives a fairly broad and generalized description of the use of the system. It doesn't mention a name for the equipment, or its specific functions. 

Tacoma Police Department uses specialized technical equipment to support field operations for criminal investigations and Homeland Security Initiatives. This new equipment offers enhanced technological capabilities for the Tacoma Police Department Explosives Ordinance Detail  (EOD) with lED prevention, protection, response and recovery measures. This proprietary equipment is manufactured by the Harris Corporation. 

In the request to formally waive competitive bidding procedures, Tacoma Police Detective Jeff Shipp describes the equipment as specifically related to explosives.

 ... specialized technical equipment utilized by Special Investigations in support of field operations for criminal investigations. This equipment offers enhanced capabilities in new technologies that directly support the Tacoma Police Department Explosives Ordinance Detail (EOD) with prevention, protection, response and recovery measures. 

According to the Electronic Frontiers Foundation and others, Tacoma Police are not alone in framing their need for the equipment as needed for operations related to homeland security or explosives. 

The results of a public records request posted on Muckrock by Phil Mocek include lists that appear to show records of use of the technology - including dates, crimes, and cell phone carriers involved, along with the outcomes - capture/attempt capture. Crimes listed in these records incude rape, murder, kidnapping, and many listings for "UDCS," which appears to be an acronym for Unlawful Distribution of a Controlled Substance, among others. We see two instances of "bomb threat" or "bomb" in the list that covers 2009 through 2014. 

The documents posted on Muckrock also include TPD policies and procedures for determining cell phone geo-location data following 911 calls. Those policies contain no specific mentions of the technology in question, but they do lay out general terms for the police to obtain geolocation data from cell phones in other instances, including the need for a court order or a threat of immediate danger. If we're reading the records right, it appears that each instance listed either has a court order or was a case of imminent threat (kidnapping, etc).

What strikes us in this story is the mismatch between the way the need for the equipment is described, and the way it appears to be used. It's also interesting that the names of the technology being purchased don't show up in any of the requests. When Environmental Services requests purchases related to wastewater treatment or solid waste pick-up, we get the names of the processing components or vehicles in question, but the TPD requests for this surveillance technology has been scrubbed clean of any mention of the name, or of anything that remotely resembles a reference to surveillance.

We know from personal experience that investigating every item on every City agenda can be more than a full-time job. Your word for the day is "obfuscate."

Read more on Kate Martin's investigation from the TNT.

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I hope they have listened in to one of my many riveting conversations with my mother.

August 27, 2014 at 3:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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When Robert Schuler, librarian at the tacoma public library northwest room and all around weasel and his wife were run down at a crosswalk downtown, it took less than a day to determine who the public benefactor was.
why, because the Tacoma Police Department scanned the usage logs of the cell towers downtown and found out that the driver made a call to his girlfriend as he was speeding away from the scene of the crime at the time of the incident. How did they know who was using the cell phone? Well, take a quick guess. Message content transcript had him confessing to what happened. How, take a guess.
Well so what I am not a criminal and i never break the law so why should I care. If you ever cross a cop just remember that any cop at any time can, and often does, destroy any victims life. No, cannot happen!!! It can and does happen every day. If you fit the profile, even blond blue eyed young females can get crosswise of a cop, you can expect to be made a victim of the numerous laws and regulations and rules and made up infractions at any time. How many times are totally innocent us citizens lives destroyed by misguided law enforcement officers, houses, belongings, children traumatized, relatives interrogated and threatened. Do not kid yourself we as us citizens are living in a police state.
The fifth amendment has been trashed. Sit in jail until you tell us what we want to hear.
The constitution has been turned into toilet paper by those who are in power in this country and it is tough luck to you if you do not like it.
The city council did not know? If they did not we need some new council people to represent us, because those who were ‘elected’ ‘appointed’ to do their job are not doing it. Of course they are subject to become victims, drunk driving at .07, as well.
Just my opinion, I could be wrong, but my experience and my lying eyes do not think so.

August 27, 2014 at 11:42 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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abraham, martin, and john

Most policemen are just doing their jobs but check this out to see what the others are capable of


Copy url, paste in google search to see if it is valid or harmful.

August 28, 2014 at 12:02 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Porch setter

Most policemen are just doing their jobs but check this out to see what the others are capable of


Copy url, paste in google search to see if it is valid or harmful.

oops, wrong url but good just the same. Check this one out.


August 28, 2014 at 12:09 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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DeeBee Cooper

Video of STINGRAY with explanation:


August 28, 2014 at 4:38 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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After looking at the list, it is certainly effective, but the civil liberties quesiton should be paramount.  Many circuit courts are deeming this an unreasonable search and seizure.  I understand Council may not be concerned as long as civil liberties aren’t being encroached upon, but they are a hair’s breadth of being so.  I find it interesting that the police don’t like talking about these methods either.  This was a gem from the Sacramento County Police Department.


August 28, 2014 at 9:50 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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This is how this technology can be abused and citizen’s rights violate. 

August 28, 2014 at 10:58 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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And just to clarify, I don’t have any suspicion of rank and file Tacoma police officers, BUT I DON"T TRUST TACOMA POLITICIANS and that includes appointed senior positions at City Hall not to abuse this technology.

August 28, 2014 at 11:42 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Uhhh how are electeds getting their hands on this technology without police knowing?  Let’s not go down the slippery-slope.

August 28, 2014 at 1:22 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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DeeBee Cooper

Xeno….so naive…what is useful to the “Electeds” and City staff are the reports from SSRIG. TPD, State Fusion Center, and JBLM that contain the results of the data collected. Let the City just open up all the records, reports, and information shared.
provide for every citizen to go and check their files under state Public Records Laws.

August 29, 2014 at 7:26 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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You should have stayed in the plane rather than make a leap of logic that Electeds had this power to permit you privy to such knowledge or themselves frankly.  Learn the law.

August 30, 2014 at 10:38 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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DeeBee Cooper

This is what the law allowed them to do with the information collected and still being collected. Good reading for you to understand how the laws have been used.


August 31, 2014 at 3:45 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Mayor Strickland is in your files right now! Alert!

August 31, 2014 at 7:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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DeeBee Cooper

With an issue as serious as this one, would have thought some serious debate would occur. But no. This is what happened when TPD used informants, the Mayor and Council failed in their functions and residents kept their heads in the sand. You must be to young to remember and I am sure they don’t teach about this time in homeschool.

September 1, 2014 at 3:44 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Our Mayor is like the Commander in Chief of the Police right?  I mean she’s supposed to be on a horse at every battle line with a swat vest on and a saber drawn to the sky I suppose.  Who needed a strong Mayor with this system?

Now apparently she has Stingray poolside with the TPD serving her drinks.  Sadly, my homeschool didn’t have a course in Modern Fiction because this is exactly what all this is.

September 2, 2014 at 9:30 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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DeeBee Cooper

Sorry…I typed “serious” twice and forget they have regulated cannabis in Washington State. Since you’ve never served enough to cherish your freedom, please just go beck to talking about bikes, or parking, or something else that matters less than civil liberties.

September 2, 2014 at 10:57 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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DeeBee Cooper

beck (although a good artist) = back

September 2, 2014 at 11:12 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Kevin Phelps

Xeno… are you Mike Lonergan? I just hear his voice when I read this.

September 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Tim Smith

Should be simple to clear this up. The Mayor and Council should just release all their records on the subject and then have a public hearing to let the residents ask questions and get answers. Broadcast it on TV12. Include the TPD, City Manager, and City Attorney. The have Kathleen Merryman write up a column about it in the Tacoma Weekly to tell us all how to feel good about Tacoma again…and off we go to the next pothole.

September 1, 2014 at 5:08 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Tim Smith

... down the slippery-slope.

The bigger question is: how do we get back up that slope?

September 2, 2014 at 12:26 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Another interesting comment here is the elected judges who are required to provide a bench warrant when these devices are used. No where in the posted comments do I see any reference to the judges who have to make these ultimate decisions. No only do we have to watch the politicians, we have to look at those that run for these elected positions of judgeship. In today’s environment, these are the protectors of our constitutional rights and obligations. It is unfortunate in that our republic has turned everything over to the Judicial branch to be the legislators, however that is reality today. These individuals are not immune from our scrutiny and should not be beyond reproach in regards to who they answer to in these electoral process. Let’s ask them about the protection of our privacy and or freedom of speech, because that is who will convict us or let us go free.

August 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Tim Smith

Some of us knew this would happen and worked to get the City of Tacoma to create a “Civil Liberties Safe Zone” We were called traitors, alarmists, and the TNT editorial staff said this issue was as relevant as “the melting of the ice caps on the planet Mars.”

This is what the council agreed to do back in 2003:


Date Passed: 12/16/03

A Resolution of Tacoma Washington

Approved by: Tacoma City Council

WHEREAS, the Council of the City of Tacoma seeks to protect the civil liberties and civil rights for all its residents, and

WHEREAS, the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America holds as self-evident that all people are created equal and are endowed by the creator with unalienable rights fo life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and

WHEREAS, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments tot he Constitution of the United States establish a shielf of protection for the residents of the City, and

WHEREAS, the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of the state of Washington guarantees all people living in Tacoma freedom of speech, assembly, and privacy; equally before the law and the presumption of innocence; access to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and

WHEREAS the Tacoma City Council believes these liberties are precious and any act that seeks to deny or threaten them should be opposed, and

WHEREAS the Tacoma City Council acknowledges that federal, state, and local jurisdictions have a responsibility to protect the citizenry, and

WHEREAS, the Tacoma City Council established a HUman Rights Commission with a mandate to protect and preserve the civil liberties and rights of its residents as a pillar of our common society, and

WHEREAS measures such as the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and other recent federal executive orders and governmental actions can undermine or threaten these basic liberties, and

WHEREAS, the Tacoma City Council believes that residents can be both safe and free, as do the governing bodies of over 219 other local, count and state jurisdictions, representing 26, 931, 608 residents, that have passed similar resolutionc and ordinances reaffirming support for civil liberties and civil rights, and

WHEREAS the Tacoma City Council strongly opposes any unconstitutionaly acts against its residents under the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 or similar govermental acts; Now, Therefore,


That the Council of the City of Tacoma will continue to defend the Constitution of the United States and take all necessary measures to ensure that the practices and polocies of the City protect those values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness we all hold so dearly.

August 29, 2014 at 7:40 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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It used to be quite a large fad (albeit illegal) for electronic communications enthusiasts (private individuals ) to monitor cellular phone conversations just for laughs even 25 and 30 years ago.Anyone adept can be their own private NSA too and join the club.
It could be mindbogglingly fun fun fun.
I know of people that just for kicks remotely monitor encrypted information on police laptops.

August 29, 2014 at 7:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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