The Role of GPS Tracking to Locate and Apprehend Criminals

A Pittsburgh area family finally has an outcome in the case against their sons murderers. As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week, the family of robbery and murder victim Tim McNerney can finally find some type of peace, as Mr. McNerneys three murderers will all spend time in prison for their roles in his death.

Mr. McNerney was a standout college football player at Washington & Jefferson College located in Washington, Pennsylvania when he was brutally robbed and attacked by three men as he walked home with a friend from a bar late at night on October 4, 2012.  The three men confronted McNerney and demanded his cell phone. As the confrontation escalated, McNerney was punched and subsequently fell, hitting his head. The autopsy found he died from trauma to the head and bleeding in his brain. The attackers fled the scene after leaving McNerney to bleed to death, making off with his cell phone and only a few dollars in cash.

Using the GPS tracking embedded within McNerneys stolen iPhone, police later located the attackers. All three murderers were convicted of robbery and murder in the third degree under Pennsylvania state law.

How is law enforcement using GPS technology to track down and apprehend criminals? What are some successes and downfalls of the technology?

GPS tracking felons

The Successes of GPS Tracking to Locate Criminals

Law enforcement agents all over the country have begun to utilize GPS tracking technology integrated into smart phones to track down all types of criminals. Police can quite literally follow the criminals directly to their current location using the GPS satellite pinpoints given off by the stolen smart phone. In the tragic case mentioned above, the attackers fled the scene of McNerneys murder with his stolen iPhone. Police simply followed the pinpoints emitted from McNerneys still operational phone to the murderers exact location.

Most criminals have no idea that the smartphones they are stealing continue to give off GPS signals and that police are often times tracking their movements in real time waiting to move in on them to make an arrest.

Recently, police have used GPS to track money stolen from a Chicago area bank as well illegal narcotics being sold on the streets of New York City.

In 2011, a man was charged with felony robbery after robbing a bank in Evanston, Illinois, an area just outside of Chicago. The FBI was able to track the man down after following GPS signals being emitted from a transmitter hidden within the stolen goods.

In another success this year, the NYPD located and apprehended a man suspected of robbing a pharmacy in Manhattan. The man had unknowingly stolen decoy narcotics bottles that had been outfitted with GPS tracking capabilities, and which had been planted at the pharmacy in an effort to catch drug pushers in the city. The decoy bottles led police directly to the criminal where he was later shot by police.

Some Potential Pitfalls in the use of the Technology

As with any technological advance, the use of GPS tracking technology may have its unique set of potential pitfalls. Technical issues, such as a lost or weak signal between the satellite and the phone, could delay or thwart law enforcement as they actively pursue a criminal. Further, if the smart phones battery were to die or the criminal were to abandon the phone, police would no longer be able to rely on the GPS tracker. Faulty technology within the phone itself could lead police to incorrectly track an innocent person and perform an unlawful arrest.

At Brownstone Law, we work specifically on appellate litigation. Our appellate attorneys are skilled in the areas of federal, criminal and civil appeals. If you would like more information concerning the criminal law Pennsylvania or help with your appeal, please contact us today.


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