Although glamorized in television shows and movies, high-speed car chases are quite dangerous resulting in numerous deaths and injuries every year—not only to suspects and first responders, but also to innocent bystanders that may be in the path of one of the vehicles. In Austin, Texas, police are using GPS tracking technology from StarChase to apprehend suspects in vehicles more efficiently and with greatly diminished risk of injury.

“Each time that we have used this technology, we have not had any injury to officers or suspects, and we have not had any wrecked vehicles, which saves on liability, litigation costs, repair-of-vehicle costs and [results in] no injuries,” Marcus Davis, a senior officer in the police technology unit for the Austin police department, said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’re getting sued from a 2012 case—before we had StarChase—and they’re asking for $1 million for a fatality, so you can see how costly these can get.”

In the 2012 case, an innocent bystander in a car died after his vehicle was “T-boned” by the suspect’s car that was trying to evade law enforcement. Such incidents happen far too often throughout the United States, which is why the StarChase system was developed, according to Trevor Fischbach, president of StarChase.

“This is a major problem that takes a lot of lives every year,” Fischbach said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.  “Not only does it take a lot of lives, it creates a ton of lawsuits and property damage—billions and billions of dollars are being spent on the lousy outcomes of these pursuits.

“The other unspoken statistic is that you have upwards of 50,000 people hurt every year in pursuits, and that’s probably an underestimate.”

Austin police improve safety with StarChase instead of car pursuits

Indeed, an adrenaline-filled car chase is a recipe for accidents that result in injuries, fatalities and significant property damage. StarChase is designed to remove the high-speed chase from the equation by allowing an officer driving a StarChase-equipped vehicle to shoot a GPS tracking device—projected by a compressed-air launcher installed on the officer’s vehicle—that adheres to the suspect’s vehicle.

Once the GPS tag is on the suspect vehicle, the officer no longer needs to chase the suspect to know the suspects location. Instead, the location of the suspect vehicle can be tracked on a map, allowing for a more orderly stoppage to be arranged by law enforcement, Fischbach said.

“In all instances during [a recent study of the technology], when StarChase was being used, there were no traditional pursuits,” he said. “There have been zero injuries, zero property damage and zero fatalities. What’s also interesting from the data is that—within two miles of a vehicle being tagged—speeds decreased to within 10 miles per hour of the posted [speed] limit.

“So, when you take the pressure off of [the suspect vehicle], these cars slow down, try to blend in and go about whatever business they were going about before they were getting pulled over. That’s very promising data and plays on normal human behavior—if someone’s not chasing you, you’re probably not going to be running.”

When the initial law enforcement vehicle stops its pursuit of the suspect vehicle, many suspects believe they have escaped arrest, but nothing could be further from the truth, Fischbach said.

“The nice thing is that law enforcement knows exactly what’s going on,” Fischbach said. “The suspect doesn’t have a clue, so they go on about their business, thinking either that they got away or thinking that the agency’s pursuit policy was such that it didn’t allow them to continue, so they dismiss it. Then 20, 30 or 40 minutes later, law enforcement is back on their tail.”

And the impact of StarChase extends well beyond improving the safety of the suspect vehicle and the law enforcement vehicle in immediate pursuit, Fischbach said. Using StarChase also positively affects the actions of other law enforcement officers in the nearby area, he said.

Austin police improve safety with StarChase instead of car pursuits

“If you look at the micro picture—with the one officer and one suspect—you have reduced the risk for that officer and that suspect, because you have reduced speeds on the road,” Fischbach said. “That’s usually what kills people that are in the pursuit itself, because people tend to run red lights and everything else, which is when tragedies occur. Most people understand that, but what’s happening on a macro level—and this is something we did not expect—is that the entire agency behaves differently [with StarChase].

“Imagine you’ve got 15 of your brothers out on patrol, and you just did this tag and put StarChase out on the radio. What happens is that all of the officers that are involved realize that they don’t need to respond like they used to. So, you know longer have five or six patrol cars that are in the general area responding in a very high-speed manner to get to the scene of a pursuit.”

In Austin, StarChase has been very effective—“it’s just another tool for your toolbelt”—but having the technology is not eliminated all car chases, Davis said.

“It all depends on the situation,” Davis said. “If there was a suspect that shot at the police officers, it doesn’t matter if we deploy StarChase or not, we would chase that car until the wheels fell off of it. On the other hand, with a stolen car, we might deploy it before we even turn our lights on, because we know that the tendency is that the vehicle’s going to run.”

The cost of StarChase is about $5000 per vehicle, which includes initial installation, training and two GPS projectile tags, according to Fischbach. Installing StarChase takes about two hours “with two checks that what they’re doing,” he said. After the first year, typical ongoing cost for the StarChase system is several hundred dollars per year, primarily to replace the GPS projectile tags, he said.

At the moment, StarChase uses a mix of direct and indirect sales to market its product, and the company is actively trying to enhance its indirect sales network, Fischbach said.

 “I’m on the hunt for the right dealer partners,” he said.