GPS tracking done by phone

Police and cell phone companies have joined forces to create the ability to locate cell phone users through Global Positioning System tracking devices.

Now that more than 80 percent of U.S. citizens have cell phones, the companies have begun updating the GPS tracking devices in cell phones so that they can be located at anytime. Some cell phone companies are not as updated as others, but most of them share the common feature of locating a cell phone after 911 is dialed. It is estimated that by the end of the year, 95 percent of cell phone users will have GPS tracking devices in their phones.

Sheryl Patterson, 23, an alumna of Florida A&M University, is an employee of the phone company Verizon Wireless.

“The GPS tracking device is only accessible by the police department when you dial 911,” Patterson said.

Since the GPS feature began being placed in most phones, Verizon stopped reactivating the older phones because the items did not have a GPS chip. The GPS chip is placed inside the phone and is the key to police and the cell phone companies’ ability to track down cell phones.

After merging with Nextel, Sprint PCS offers the GPS tracking feature in all of its phones. Mindy Hayden, 26, a Sprint PCS employee, said, “If a parent has a child who has a cell phone, and they turn up missing, that parent can call us and we can track the child down through their cell phone.”

Hayden added that a person does not have to call 911 in order to be tracked down.

Camille Colon, 25, a senior elementary education student from Bradenton, is a Sprint subscriber, and she believes the GPS feature is something positive.

“It’s good because it’s called 911 for a reason, so if they find you, it’s great,” Colon said. “It should be for emergencies only. It also helps if the cell phone gets stolen as well.”

Some T-Mobile phones have GPS features but do not give as accurate a position as other companies’ phones, said a T-Mobile representative who could not state his name because of the company’s confidentiality agreements.

“The cell phone towers have a seven-mile radius; so when looking for the person, we do not get the exact location,” he said.

Yvette Anderson, 25, a senior elementary education student, is a T-mobile customer. In her opinion, the GPS feature is a good feature.

“It’s good that the companies can track a person with a cell phone,” Anderson said. “In this case, it’s a good thing.”

But Anderson admitted that she had a small concern with the idea of cell phone tracking.

“There’s a con to the GPS as well. I think people are abusing and misusing the technology for an invasion of privacy,” he said.

“So I think the GPS feature should be a personal choice for the consumer,” Anderson said.

A representative of the Tallahassee Police Department said that GPS tracking from the local police involves a highly specialized machine.

“It’s not like the way people see it on TV. We can’t get the exact location like on the television shows. In reality, the signals jump from tower to tower so they can be hard to track,” the representative said.

When a cell phone is drawn outside of a tower, the signal gets weak, said the TPD representative.

“GPS phones are easy to track, but it’s the towers that make it hard,” he said. “Digital phones are not as bad, but they can still be a little difficult to track.”

According to Charles Black, dispatcher of TPD, the local police does not have the machinery to locate a cell phone directly from the offices.

“We don’t have that kind of equipment in our offices. We just call the phone company to get the location of the phone or its owner.”

Lt. Virtue Hall of the Atlanta Police Department, said 911 is trying to reach phase two of the GPS device.

“Phase two is when all the cell phone companies have GPS chips in all cell phones. It hasn’t been mandated by the state or federal government yet, so we don’t know when this phase will begin.”

Contact Cherise Wilkerson at