According to documents obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Erie County Sheriff's Department used its high-tech Stingray device to track cell phones 47 times in the last four years. However, there is some dispute over what the documents say.
The Stingray is a secret briefcase-sized device which amounts to a cell phone tower to track a cell phone to within a few feet. Law enforcement agencies on all levels of government use them and they all agree to the maker's rules to not tell anyone about them, not to even tell those in government who pay for them.
The civil liberties group has been following their use and their secrecy across the country and went to court and won. They read the documents as showing 47 cases where no warrant for use was obtained.
Sheriff's Special Services Chief Scott Patronik says that's not true.
"As I look through the 47, there were cases where we had lost missing persons. There were cases of suicidal persons. It was a mix of the 47 cases, they weren't exclusively criminal," Patronik said.
"The criminal cases are typically were our more serious cases, individuals wanted for homicide."
Patronik says in every criminal case there was a warrant. He says the NYCLU is misreading low-level paperwork showing where staffers were working to believe it shows his department is monitoring people without warrants.