615 – Emergency Installation and Use of Pen Registers

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I. Policy for Emergency Situations

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) shall continually train and designate certified deputies to install and use pen registers or trap and trace devices when such deputies reasonably believe an immediate life-threatening situation exists within the HCSO jurisdiction, or the jurisdiction of another officer the HCSO is assisting, and the situation requires the immediate installation of a pen register or trap and trace device before an order authorizing the installation and use can, with due diligence, be obtained. In addition, the designated deputy must reasonably believe there are sufficient grounds consistent with the requirements of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 18, Article 18.21, “Pen Registers and Trap and Trace Devices; Access to Stored Communications; Mobile Tracking Devices,” on which to obtain an order authorizing the installation and use of a pen register or trap and trace device prior to initiating the installation and use of such device in an immediate life-threatening situation.

The only designated HCSO employees who can declare an emergency under this policy are those listed in Attachment A. If any HCSO employee not designated by this policy believes an emergency exists which would warrant the implementation of these procedures, a Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Fugitive Task Force (GCVOFTF) supervisor shall be contacted via Watch Command for assistance. Once contacted, the GCVOFTF will be responsible for all contact with the cellular company, and the responsible deputy who requests assistance shall meet with the GCVOFTF supervisor for all necessary court order preparation within 48 hours of the emergency declaration. All records of any emergency declaration and the obtaining of the court order shall be forwarded to and maintained by the GCVOFTF.

If a designated deputy installs or uses a pen register or trap and trace device in such an emergency situation, the deputy shall:

A. Promptly report the installation and use to the prosecutor through which the device is installed or used, and

B. Within 48 hours after the installation is complete or the use begins, whichever occurs first, obtain an order pursuant to CCP Article 18.21, Section 2, authorizing the installation and use.

C. If the judge the authorization is requested through fails to issue an order authorizing the installation and use of such a device within the 48-hour period or denies the application, the deputy shall terminate the use of and promptly remove the pen register or trap and trace device.

II. Definitions

Designee: A certified deputy that is qualified and designated by the Sheriff and acknowledged by the Harris County District Attorney to declare “emergencies” to cellular carriers. State law defines these designees as follows: “Must be a member of a law enforcement unit specially trained to deal with life-threatening situations,” meaning a peace officer who, as evidenced by the submission of appropriate documentation to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement:

• Must receive a minimum of 40 hours of training a year in hostage and barricaded suspect situations, or

• Has received a minimum of 24 hours of training on kidnapping investigations and is:

o The sheriff of a county with a population of 3.3 million or more or the sheriff’s designee, or

o The police chief of a police department in a municipality with a population of 500,000 or more or the police chief’s designee.

A list of current approved designees must be submitted to the Sheriff for his or her approval and acknowledged by the District Attorney. The list will stay on file with the HCSO and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Any changes to the list will be forwarded through both agencies’ chain of command in writing and with the proper documentation for approval. The most current list of qualified and designated HCSO certified peace officers who have been acknowledged by the District Attorney is attached as Emergency Addendum Attachment 1 and 2.

Emergency Situations: To make a declaration of an emergency within the meaning of this policy, the following facts must be present. This procedure comes into effect only when there is an “immediate life-threatening situation” which, by statute, is defined as a hostage, barricade, or other emergency situation in which a person unlawfully and directly:

• Threatens another with death, or

• Exposes another to a substantial risk of serious bodily injury.


This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

January 25, 2014

August 6, 2021

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