TACOMA, Wash. -

A newspaper reports that Tacoma, Washington, police have purchased and used surveillance equipment that can sweep up records of cell phone calls, text messages and data transfers up to a half mile away.

The device is small enough to be carried in a car and tricks cell phones into thinking it's a cell tower, drawing in their information, The News Tribune reported.

The Tacoma Police Department has not confirmed that it has such a device, called a Stingray. However, Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said Tuesday that the Police Department sometimes uses the device to assist the sheriff's office.

The News Tribune says public records indicate the Police Department has had the ability to wirelessly search neighborhoods since 2008.

Civil libertarians are concerned that police are secretly sweeping up information from innocent people in such broad searches.