The number of wiretaps used by federal and state law enforcement dropped 14 percent in 2008, declining for the first time in eight years, according to a report released this week by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Judges approved 1,891 wiretaps last year, down from 2,208 the year before. The number of intercept applications had been steadily climbing since 2001, when there were 1,491. No applications were rejected.
State agencies accounted for 1,505 of the applications, while federal law enforcement asked for 386.
Like every other year for the past decade, the vast majority of the wiretaps in 2008 were used in narcotics cases. Those investigations also accounted for much of the drop. Last year, there were 1,593 wiretaps in drug cases, down from 1,792 the year before. In the next largest category, homicide and assault investigations, law enforcement officials asked for just 92 wiretaps.
The report found that wiretaps contributed to 4,133 arrests and 810 convictions.
The average cost of executing each wiretap also continued to drop, down to about $47,000 from the decade high of $63,000 in 2004. The average cost of a federal wiretap was $70,536.
The report compiles statistics on the surveillance methods used in domestic investigations. Wiretaps used in terrorism-related cases