The surveillance state goes local: Area police departments may be using Stingray technology to spy on you without a warrant — and the Feds don’t want you to know – THOR BENSON SATURDAY, OCT 15, 2016 07:45 AM PDT

The DOJ is blocking requests for information on Stingray, which can spy on you by connecting with your cell phone

The surveillance state goes local: Area police departments may be using Stingray technology to spy on you without a warrant — and the Feds don't want you to know

For the past several years, we’ve been learning more and more about police use of “cell site simulators” across the country, and it’s a disturbing trend. These devices, regularly referred to by the brand name Stingray, are about the size of a briefcase and mimic cell phone towers so phones nearby will try to access them. Once a signal reaches the Stingray, the machine can gather information about the phone. That means a strategically placed Stingray can access hundreds of phones in an area and figure out who the phones belong to and where they are, all without a warrant.

Because of secrecy agreements signed by police departments nationwide and the government’s general lack of transparency when it comes to surveillance, it’s been difficult for Americans to learn who’s using these devices, how they’re using them and why. Organizations like the ACLU have filed numerous lawsuits to learn more about Stingrays, and has gradually gained quite a bit of knowledge, but roadblocks are constantly being put in the way.

For example, the ACLU recently filed a lawsuit against the Delaware State Police after they refused to give up information on their use of Stingrays in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Furthermore, the Department of Justice stepped in and backed up the decision made by Delaware police.

“Although the United States is not a party to this case, it has a direct interest in the protection of the information withheld,” DOJ attorneys wrote. “Cell-site simulator technology is a key tool in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation, interdiction and suppression of criminal and terrorist activity. Disclosure of even minor details about this technology will jeopardize, if not vitiate, the ability of the FBI and the larger law enforcement community to successfully deploy this valuable technology.”

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The funny, surprisingly successful tactic some police are using to catch drug dealers

A sheriff’s department has an innovative way to go after drug dealers: have them snitch on their competition.

Seriously. Earlier this month, the Franklin County, Kentucky, Sheriff’s Office posted a flier on Facebook letting drug dealers submit anonymous tips to get “a free service to help you eliminate your drug competition”:

A form that lets drug dealers snitch on their competition.Franklin County Sheriff’s Office

Ridiculous, right? Except it apparently worked. The New York Times’s Katie Rogers reports:

When the sheriff in Franklin County, Ky., posted a flier on Facebook asking local drug dealers to snitch on their competition, the response was more than a little incredulous.

That is, until a tip sent to a phone number on the flier led to an investigation that helped the sheriff arrest a local drug dealer. The authorities recovered crack cocaine, cocaine, four pounds of marijuana and four firearms, the sheriff, Pat Melton, said on Thursday.

This isn’t the first time a police department has tried the tactic. Last month, the Charlton, Massachusetts, Police Department posted a similar flier on its Facebook page. And the McIntosh County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Office published another flier as an advertisement in a local newspaper — drawing an appearance on Fox News.

It’s funny and ridiculous. But as police departments around the country spend billions on the war on drugs and get few results, especially in the face of rising heroin use, it’s hard to blame them for wanting to try something new.

Obama To Limit Police Acquisition Of Some Military-Style Equipment – EYDER PERALTA MAY 18, 2015 7:55 AM ET

President Obama will ban local police forces from acquiring some types of military-style equipment from federal agencies.

That’s one of several recommendations made by a White House task force that Obama is putting into place using an executive order on Monday.

According to a report issued by the White House, the task force recommended banning the sale of some equipment — such as tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and high caliber weapons and ammunition — after weighing their utility to local police and the “the potential negative impact on the community if the equipment was used arbitrarily or inappropriately.”

Local police departments can still buy this equipment on their own. They just can’t buy them from the feds or buy them using federal money.

The Washington Post reports Obama will formally announce his executive order in Camden, New Jersey, today. The paper reports:

“Obama’s visit to one of New Jersey’s poorest cities comes as he seeks to ramp up federal funding for community policing initiatives in the wake of a series of high-profile incidents that have frayed trust between officers and residents in Ferguson, Mo., New York and Baltimore, among other cities.

“Camden has long been among New Jersey’s most crime-ridden cities, but reforms over the past two years have led to falling crime statistics and an increased number of officers in the community. The president is scheduled to tour Camden’s county police headquarters and tactical operations center, and speak with officers before delivering remarks at a community center.

“‘What we’re witnessing in cities across the country is not only about policing but also about opportunity,’ White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told reporters on a conference call Sunday.”

Based on a fact sheet distributed by the White House, here are a few other initiatives Obama will highlight today:

— Police Data Initiative will help police departments across the country track things like use of force and police stops. Data scientists will help some police departments polish an early warning system, in which data flags problems early.

— Twenty-one jurisdictions will also release big data sets that will help “communities gain visibility into key information on police/citizen encounters.”

— The White House will release a body-cam tool kit that will help police plan and implement body-cam programs.

— The Department of Justice “will begin taking applications for grants designed to advance the practice of community policing in law enforcement agencies through hiring, training and technical assistance, the development of innovative community policing strategies, applied research, guidebooks, and best practices that are national in scope.”

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The Thin White Line: Most Cops Don’t Look Like the Residents They Serve – By Bryan Schatz and AJ Vicens | Tue May 5, 2015 6:05 AM EDT

Big city police forces have tried to become more diverse. Mostly they’ve failed.

Baltimore police faced off against protesters on April 30. David Goldman/AP

In Baltimore, white people make up 28 percent of the population but 50 percent of the city’s police officers. In Philadelphia, where police and protesters clashed last Thursday during a #FreddieGray rally, whites are 37 percent of the population but 58 percent of the police force. In Sacramento, whites comprise just 36 percent of residents but 72 percent of police.

Those are just a few of the departments whose ethnic makeup is dramatically out of sync with the demographics of the cities they serve. Using census data, Chris Zubak-Skees of the Center for Public Integrity crunched the numbers for the nation’s 50 most populous cities. In 49 of them—Atlanta being the lone exception—the cops are whiter than the community.

Zubak-Skees notes that police departments in many cities have worked hard to make themselves more diverse. Acting on recommendations by the 1968 Kerner Commission—which was appointed to investigate the causes of riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, and Detroit—many departments began reviewing fair promotion policies and recruiting African Americans. The numbers have improved somewhat over the years, but most big-city forces are still far from representative. The Kerner report warned that an “abrasive relationship between police and the minority communities has been a major—and explosive—source of grievance, tension, and disorder.”

“For many, those words still ring depressingly true today,” CPI notes.

The following charts give a breakdown for 15 cities, including those with the greatest disparities to those whose police forces closely reflect the people they serve. If you don’t see your city here, scroll down to the table containing all of the 50 cities Zubak-Skees examined.

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Police want to keep surveillance tech secret – by Joshua Kopstein April 11, 2015 2:00AM ET

If you use a cellphone and live in one of these 20 states, there’s a decent chance police have spied on you using a secretive mass surveillance tool called a stingray. But good luck finding out. Because if there’s one thing we know for sure about these devices, it’s that the federal government is fighting tooth and nail to stop you from ever learning anything about them.Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at Apr 13, 2015 12.53

Stingrays (also known as cell-site simulators, IMSI catchers and dirtboxes) are devices that identify and track cellphones en masse by acting like fake cell towers, fooling all nearby phones into connecting to them. Last year documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is requiring state and local police departments to sign nondisclosure agreements before obtaining the devices. But the details of those secret agreements were always completely redacted.

That is until earlier this week, when the ACLU released new stingray documents, including an agreement between the FBI and police in Erie County, New York. It confirms what privacy advocates have suspected: The federal government is intervening at the state and local level to hide information about stingrays at any cost — even when it means withholding evidence or dropping criminal cases.

The agreement bars the Erie County Sheriff’s Office from making any public statements about stingrays and says it must call the FBI to intervene whenever a public records request or court order compels the county to reveal any information about the technology. The accord even says the department must be willing to drop cases, explicitly directing police to “seek dismissal of the case in lieu of using or providing or allowing others to use or provide any information concerning [stingrays]” at the FBI’s request.

That’s right: The FBI is commanding local cops to ignore court orders and sabotage criminal cases rather than reveal information about stingrays.

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Police Departments Open Up ‘Safe Lots’ For Craigslist Transactions – PATRICK SKAHILL MARCH 27, 2015 4:42 AM ET

The Hartford Police Department is one of a number of police departments across the country that are offering up their parking lots as "safe zones" for Craigslist transactions.

The Hartford Police Department is one of a number of police departments across the country that are offering up their parking lots as “safe zones” for Craigslist transactions. Courtesy of the Hartford Police Department

The online classified site Craigslist updated its safety page this week, encouraging users to make exchanges at local police stations. Some police departments across the country are already offering up their headquarters as voluntary “safe zones” for Craigslist deals.

Sebastian Rivera likes to ride BMX bikes. And when he’s customizing his ride, he says he’ll hop onto Craigslist to look for free stuff or to trade bike parts with people in his area.

“It’s pretty easy, as long as like I get the person’s number or I get their Facebook … another way to communicate besides Craigslist,” Rivera says.

As we talk in downtown Hartford, Conn., Rivera echoes what a lot of people have told me: Be cautious with anonymous online deals — get as much information as you can about the person you’re dealing with and always meet in a public place.

Now, the Hartford Police Department is hoping the public’s place of choice will be a parking lot right outside its headquarters.

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