W.Va. House passes phone tracking bill

CHARLESTON – A bill passed by the West Virginia House of Delegates Monday could be a helpful tool for local law enforcement officers.

The House voted 96-1 Monday to pass the state’s version of the Kelsey Smith Act. The act was signed into law April 2009 by then Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, according to the Kelsey Smith Foundation website.

Police were led to 18-year-old Kelsey Smith’s body through cellular signals after she was abducted in a Target parking lot in Kansas. Her parents sought such laws following a delay in getting their daughter’s cellphone provider to cooperate with police.

Sgt. Greg Collins with the Parkersburg Police Department said if passed the act could help lead police to a missing person more quickly. He said in cases where there is an abduction time is of the essence.

“It could undoubtedly save countless lives,” Collins said. “If passed, there will no doubt be fear of improper disclosures by cell service providers or abuse by law enforcement.”

Collins said police are able to locate cellular records during an investigation through paperwork that can be acquired from magistrate, circuit court or administrative paperwork from the cellular service providers.

In life or death situations the time it takes to complete such paperwork could be the difference in a successful or failed attempt to save a life, Collins said.

“We need to be able to get the answer from the cell companies immediately,” Collins said. “Our job is to protect the public.”

Collins said it is crucial to be able to take advantage of every technology to protect the public.

“I think people need to realize that it could be their loved one we are trying to find,” he said.

The act has been passed in Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, Hawaii and Missouri, according to the website.

Wood County Sheriff’s Office Chief Law Enforcement Deputy Shawn Graham said if passed the legislation could prove to be a valuable resource to local law enforcement.

“That was a tragic story but this piece of legislation could provide a valuable tool for law enforcement, saving valuable and critical time in an emergency,” Graham said.

The state bill now moves on to the Senate.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)