Bill proposes expedited wireless communication tracking in emergency situations

This article originally appeared on WCYB News 5 by Olivia Bailey.

Law enforcement agencies in Virginia could soon have faster access to resources in the cases of missing people. It is part of a new bill working its way through the legislature.

Seconds can be key when it comes to solving abduction cases. Technology often helps investigators crack the code.

“If it’s truly abduction, it’s immediate,” Captain Scott Snapp said. Snapp oversees the criminal investigations division at the Washington County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office.

He said investigators start working urgently to track cell phone locations. Right now, they have to delay to obtain a court order to request the information from cell phone carriers.

“What if two hours or thirty minutes is important on timing because some people get rid of their phone? Sometimes their phones die or have no juice. We can’t track it,” Snapp said.

Senator Bill Carrico is proposing to change state law to allow investigators, without a warrant, to track phones in an emergency.

“The statistics show that 50 percent of kids that are abducted, truly abducted, are murdered within an hour,” Carrico said.

Law enforcement would do it through a pen register or a trap and trace device.

“The pen register, what it does is track numbers that you call from your phone. The trap and trace, it registers numbers that your phone is receiving from another device,” Carrico said.

Authorities would then be able to track locations within meters from the location of the communication as it happens.

Snapp said, “I would want to know if I were a parent of a missing child, and I have children of my own, that law enforcement was trying to do everything they can and not being hindered by time to find my child right that second. I don’t think we can put a time frame on a child’s safety.”

The bill still requires the investigating agencies to file proper documentation within three days with the court of when the use of this resource has been used in an emergency situation for review.

So far, the bill has been approved by the Senate and the House Courts of Justice Committee.

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