No immediate local impact seen in Supreme Court GPS ruling

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Jim Taylor, who formerly supervised the narcotics unit for the agency, said Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the use of GPS devices won’t make much impact on current operations.

“We regularly obtain warrants to track vehicles, get telephone information and for wiretaps,” Taylor said.

The court said the Constitution generally bars the police from tracking individuals with GPS devices attached to a car unless they receive a warrant from a judge in advance.

Taylor said the case heard by the Supreme Court was a bit of an anomaly and that Global Positioning System tracking devices aren’t typically used for such a long duration of time.

Law enforcement will often use the devices to assist in a larger surveillance operation, such as keeping track of a vehicle while in densely populated areas in case visual surveillance is lost, he said.

“I can see where the court is coming from, and I don’t have any issues with the decision,” Taylor said. “Anytime you get a case decision that changes the way police do business, it is because of bad police work or because the envelope was pushed too far.”Such tracking devices are used frequently, often in local narcotics investigations, and commonly in the middle of the night.

“If it is of sufficient importance, we will be waking up a judge in the middle of the night,” Taylor said. “I guess this means there are going to be a lot of judges with sleepless nights in the future.”

Cal Poly political science professor Allen Settle said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

“There is an expectation of privacy even in a public place,” Settle said. “The Supreme Court is telling law enforcement that they must get judicial approval to execute such a search.”