By Marin Perez, PoliceOne News Editor
Officers know that high-speed pursuits can be dangerous for everyone involved. Many end in fiery crashes that can cause property damage and injure officers and civilians. While it may provide television stations with dramatic footage, there is a need in the LE community to mitigate risks of these pursuits.
| The launcher uses air compression to fire the tracking tag. Here, it is mounted behind the grill but a hand-held tauncher is also available.|
Using GPS technology, a new tool called the StarChase Pursuit Management System aims to help LEOs curb collateral damage while still nabbing suspects.
"Primarily, StarChase is a tagging and tracking technology that can forestall high-speed pursuits,” said Sean Sawyer, CEO of StarChase LLC, based in Virginia Beach, Va. "It gives law enforcement a way to reduce liability issues with pursuits, and more importantly, save lives."
The system allows officers to fire a small GPS projectile that sticks to the suspect's vehicle. This electronic "tag" can be fired from a laser-guided, compressed air launcher mounted under the cruiser’s grill. It then transmits the real-time location of the suspect, which lets officers ease their foot off the pedal.
The goal, Sawyer said, is to allow LEOs to conduct a safer and more controlled pursuit.
The dangers of high-speed pursuits are nothing new. In 1996, the National Institute of Justice formed the Pursuit Management Task
Force to tackle these issues.
The tracking tag uses a proprietary adhesive and magnets to stay attached to a suspect's vehicle.
It found that there is a "startling lack of technology to help officers when a vehicle attempts to flee." But police technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since then, and StarChase embodies this.
"Some of our earlier versions [of the projectile] were about the size of a basketball," said Trevor Fischbach, VP of Business Development. "But the technology is ever-improving, and the current system uses off-the-shelf GPS technology. This makes the system very affordable and scalable."
The system is controlled by a console mounted in the cruiser near the interior arm. A laser near the grill-mounted launcher assists with aiming, and the controls are easy to learn.
"We had officers testing the system recently," said Fischbach. "Within a few hours they were firing away and hitting their marks. When we designed the console, we used a lot of feedback from officers to get it right."
Once the electronic tag is fired, it sticks to the suspect’s vehicle with a combination of magnets and an aggressive adhesive that quickly dries.
Packed into the small projectile is a miniaturized GPS chip, radio transmitter and a battery. Once it's attached to a fleeing vehicle, it uses GPS satellites to compute the location, which is then transmitted to a secure computer server. Because of its patented GPS chip, the tag provides uninterrupted position tracking even if the vehicle goes into a covered parking garage, a shady canyon, or similarly sheltered areas.
Police can then access the vehicle’s location in real-time through a secure Internet portal. Best yet, the data tracked by the StarChase system are fully admissible in court.
The controls for the launcher can be mounted in the cruiser within arm's reach of the officer.
The idea for StarChase came about after one of the founders lost a friend during a police pursuit in Norfolk, Va. Sawyer knew that the technology existed to help make police pursuits safer, but it wasn’t affordable or readily available.
Proof-of-concept trials were completed in 2005. The Los Angeles Police Department are currently completing final beta testing, and StarChase will be available commercially first quarter 2008. Sawyer said he has received enthusiastic interest from more than 400 agencies across the nation.
"High-speed pursuit is a national issue," Sawyer said. "StarChase utilizes affordable technology to give police a tool to combat this issue and make a real impact."