Police Employ GPS Tracking Technology In Place Of High Speed Chases

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013 - 6:49am
(Photo by Alexandra Olgin-KJZZ)
StarChase control panel inside the vehicle.

High speed police chases are dangerous for the suspect, officers and the public. Arizona Department of Public Safety has been using a GPS tracking system that has helped cut down on those kinds of pursuits. A dozen chases have been avoided in the last two years. 

When a suspect flees from an officer, the patrolmen are faced with the task of chasing the car down. Arizona Department of Public Safety Sergeant Chris Hemmen said the StarChase pursuit system is like having a helicopter without actually having to deploy one. The technology allows officers to have an virtual view of the car as its fleeing.

The GPS tagging device is mounted on the front grill of police cars. The officer controls it from a control pad on the inside of his vehicle. After aiming with a laser, the officer launches the device. It is designed to stick to the back of the suspects car...

“Eliminating the need to chase after the vehicle and allow the vehicle to go to its destination and then we can track it from a computer from a safe distance," said Hemmen. 

DPS has six patrol cars with the StarChase system. Hemmen said the installation costs $5,000 and was funded by a federal grant. Now, DPS pays for maintenance with money from seized from drug busts and other criminal police operations. StarChase president Trevor Fischbach said although the technology is expensive, it is the option causing the least harm.

“If you want to think about it from a numbers perspective it is a $250 decision versus the alternatives," said Fischbach. 

And Fischbach said those chases often come at a higher price. He said the company is participating in a study analyzing data on the technology and how it affects behavior of officers and suspects. Preliminary results indicate the arrest rate in pursuits is about 10 percent higher using the device.

“I think it is attributable to law enforcement being a little bit calmer during the event and also the criminal being a lot calmer and frankly not really aware of that they are being tracked. They are behaving different they are sort of, their guard is down if you will," said Fishbach. 

The legality of law enforcement using GPS tracking has been a controversial. In January of 2012 the United States Supreme Court ruled in US v Jones GPS tracking could not be done without a warrant, but Arizona State University Law Professor Andrew Askland said there is an exception.

“Exigent circumstances capture a whole list of those exceptions. One of them is if the police are where they are allowed to be if they see criminal activity. They are allowed to act on that," said Askland. 

In the Arizona summer heat some the adhesive loses some of its stickiness. Fischbach said his team is continually working to improve the technology.  

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