High-speed pursuits cause nearly 400 deaths a year and cost the government more than a billion dollars a year in damages, lawsuits, and medical bills. A new GPS technology may offer a better way to catch crooks.
StarChase is a GPS system that shoots sticky GPS “bullets” onto suspect vehicles from a cannon mounted inside the grille of a police car.
Field trials of the technology indicate that StarChase has a suspect apprehension rate of greater than 80%, with no injuries, fatalities, or property damage.
Here’s how it works:
Popular Mechanics has a good explanation of the technology:
StarChase uses a double-barreled compressed-air unit installed in the grille of a police car and loaded with twin 4.5-inch GPS projectiles. When the officer needs to pursue a suspect, he or she activates the launcher using an in-car console or remote key fob. The system uses laser acquisition to target the suspect’s fleeing or stationary car and then shoots one of the GPS cartridges like a spud out of a potato gun at its rear end …
The projectiles are tipped with an industrial-strength adhesive, so they stick. Once the suspect’s car is tagged, the GPS module relays the car’s coordinates, heading, and speed every 3 to 5 seconds to police dispatch. When officers know the tag is in place, they can pull back and wait for backup — they might even turn off their lights and sirens. Dispatch monitors the tagged vehicle on a digital road map and directs officers to where the suspect is headed. Thinking they are not being followed, suspects return to normal speeds or stop, allowing for safer apprehension.
One roadblock to the system’s widespread use is the price tag. The system costs $US5,000 per police car and each GPS-projectile runs for about $US250 a pop.
According to StarChase president Trevor Fischbach, that price isn’t likely to go down because the devices aren’t cheap to build. Even so, he thinks that potential benefits outweigh the monetary costs.
“$5,000 is a high cost, but when you factor in that it’s a multibillion dollar problem that leads to lawsuit payout, loss of life, loss of productivity or regular people like you or me getting slammed into at an intersection, that calculation changes,” Fischbach told Business Insider.
Fischbach says that in most pursuits a minimum of $US3,000 in property damage occurs. StarChase severely reduces that potential.
More than 15 police agencies, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Iowa State Patrol, and the Austin Police Department have begun to use the technology. The Arizona police have had the most high-profile success, using the technology to apprehend a number of stolen cars, seize thousands of pounds of meth and other drugs, and also to uncover a group of underage women who were kidnapped and smuggled across the U.S.-Mexican border.
There has been some question as to the legality of StarChase, which police officers use on the spot. Last year’s Supreme Court case, U.S. v Jones, determined that GPS devices constitute a search under the 4th amendment and therefore require a warrant. The use of StarChase, however, has yet to be struck down in court, due to limit in how the system is used.
StarChase isn’t a system designed to GPS-track a car for 30 days, said Fischbach, but rather in a specific set of circumstances, where the situation and public safety warrants it.
“The reason we passed that litmus test is because we fit in a very unique area within GPS,” said Fischbach. “Our technology isn’t deployed until probable cause [has been established] or exigent circumstances.”
If police decide to use it in another manner, say for long-term tracking without a warrant, it may be brought before the court again.
Other potential issues with the technology reside with the efficacy of the GPS-cannon. In the video below, you can see the cannon in use. It appears that, for the GPS-slug to attach to the suspect vehicle, police need to be directly behind the car.
In addition, there is some fear that criminals will act to avoid StarChase, once they know that certain police departments are using it. Fischbach indicated that most police departments using the technology don’t want to be named for precisely that reason.
Here’s a video from StarChase on the technology. Skip ahead to 0:54 to see it in action:
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