Devices known as cell-site simulators can sweep up the cell phone communications of people nearby even if they aren't the target of a criminal investigation.

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TACOMA — The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the Tacoma Police Department, saying the department has refused to turn over documents concerning its use of Stingray surveillance devices.

The devices, also known as cell-site simulators, can sweep up the cell phone communications of people nearby even if they aren’t the target of a criminal investigation. The News Tribune newspaper reported in 2014 that police had used the device hundreds of times since 2009, and while police said they sought court approval to do so, judges said they didn’t understand that the department was using their orders to deploy a Stingray.

The ACLU of Washington said it requested public records that would shed light on how the department was using the device. The organization said Tacoma police have not complied.

Department spokeswoman Loretta Cool said she had no comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court.

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