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Sheriff defends use of phone tracking equipment

Chris Caya/WBFO News

Cell phone tracking equipment used by the Erie County Sheriff's Department does not store data, according to Sheriff Timothy Howard. Howard says the device only gives investigators a direction to go in.

"The cell phone simply says, 'The person you're looking for is in that direction.' You could be already beyond the person of you could be right next to the person," Howard said Monday. "We clearly have used this to save lives. We have not used this to gather any data about anyone."

Sheriff Howard says people are being "misled" about the equipment's capabilities. He says he "totally understand[s]" the concerns of citizens and said he is "among the people that have a distrust of government."

The device reportedly cost around $350,000 and was purchased using federal Homeland Security funding.

"We have done everything in total compliance with all of the policies that exist. I'm not going to go into exactly what those policies are," Howard said.

Members of the Erie County Legislature have requested Howard appear in chambers Thursday to explain the sheriff's cell phone tracking policy.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan is supporting legislation that would require police to obtain a warrant before monitoring cell phones.

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