The Cops’ Secret Surveillance Tools Were Useless in Finding a Chicken Wing Thief

Police in Maryland employed the controversial Stingray surveillance system in the case of a pizza delivery man who had allegedly been robbed of 15 chicken wings and three subs, together valued at $56.77.
May 8, 2016, 7:00pm
Photo via Flickr user USDA

Steal chicken wings and you might be in the crosshairs of one of American law enforcement's most powerful and secretive tools.

A Cell Site Simulator, also known as a Stingray, is a suitcase-sized phone tracker that can track cell phone users' locations, intercept their conversations, and even access the information on their phones.

Given the inherent invasion of privacy involved with this police tool—not to mention the shroud of secrecy surrounding it—the Stingray is assumed to be reserved for matters of the utmost urgency, like locating missing persons, investigating murder cases… and tracking down chicken-wing thieves.

READ MORE: This Is What It's Like to Farm Under Police Surveillance

According to RT, police in Maryland employed the controversial surveillance system in the case of a pizza delivery man who had allegedly been robbed of 15 chicken wings and three subs, together valued at $56.77. Perhaps even more jarring is the fact that Annapolis police still failed to find the chicken-wing thief, despite using a system originally intended for military and intelligence operations.

The "chicken wings case" was unearthed by Capital News Service (CNS), the student-staffed news wire service operated by the University of Maryland's College of Journalism. CNS conducted a four-month investigation into Stingray usage by local law enforcement and found that the secretive device is being deployed in a wide range of criminal investigations, from locating violent offenders to monitoring crowds.

But even chicken-wing thieves have basic civil liberties, and the CNS report only confirmed the suspicions of public defenders and civil rights lawyers. "I would say that this shouldn't ever be a secret," David Rocah, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Maryland told CNS. "We're not talking about catching spies. We're talking about routine criminal investigations."

Clearly, for Annapolis police, subs and wings are a matter of the highest importance.