VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Technology designed to limit or eliminate the need for dangerous police pursuits has proven effective in early field use, however agencies in Hampton Roads are reluctant to adopt it.
The StarChase system enables police to launch a “tag” from their patrol vehicle, which then sticks to the suspect’s vehicle. The tag has a GPS tracker.
“Instead of the traditional way of three or four officers chasing this guy at a hundred miles an hour, we have the officer just drop back once the tag is deployed,” said David Respess, training manager for StarChase.
The pursuing officer and dispatch personnel can then track the suspect on software.
“They are able to get updates on where this vehicle is, and tactically place assets around that vehicle so when it does come to a stop they can make an apprehension,” said Respess, a former officer with Chesapeake Police.
The unit mounts in the grille of the police cruiser and holds two GPS tags. The system uses compressed air and fires a cylinder-shaped projectile about five inches long. A laser sight helps the officer locate the target. A strong adhesive and a magnet help the tag stick to the vehicle being pursued.
StarChase says it has about 25 clients so far across the US. A University of South Carolina study looked at three dozen case studies of StarChase in Austin, Texas and Arizona. The cases involved stolen vehicles, human smuggling, DUIs and drugs. The report says a total of 44 people were arrested without a high speed pursuit.
Hampton Roads has had several police pursuits in the past fifteen months. One involved a murder suspect firing shots at police. Another followed a carjacking that ended with several cars damaged and a bystander seriously hurt.
10 On Your Side contacted Virginia State Police and five metro police departments in Hampton Roads. None showed significant interest in StarChase. They told us they either didn’t know enough about it, they’d like to see more of a track record, or it didn’t meet their needs.
Data on police pursuits from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that on average, over the past twenty years, someone in the US is killed in a police pursuit nearly every day. About three out of every ten are neither the officer nor the suspect – but rather a bystander or a driver unrelated to the chase.
Any device that involves the tracking of someone’s whereabouts is bound to raise legal and privacy concerns. A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union says StarChase will not violate civil liberties provided it is used as intended.
Alfred “Jake” Jacocks, a former chief of police in Virginia Beach, played a major role in creating the department’s restrictive pursuit policy. Now in place for more than 15 years, it was one of the nation’s first.
“Vehicle pursuits are among the most dangerous activities that police officers engage in,” said Jacocks. “There are few offenses and circumstances which justify engaging in a vehicle pursuit. There is no valid rationale for allowing high speed pursuits of minor criminal or traffic offenses.”
Jacocks says he would want to see more testing in a variety of settings before commenting on StarChase.
Respess says he could have used StarChase when he was still on the force in Chesapeake.
“When I was on 64 chasing a guy at 120 miles an hour during rush hour in the emergency lane. Looking back on that now, this technology would have been very useful.”