Vehicle tagging could end police chases
While high-speed chases make for great entertainment in the movies and on television, in real life they are something that police officers would just as soon avoid. A vehicle-tagging solution developed by fledgling Virginia Beach, Va.-based StarChase is designed to eliminate the need for such chases.
According to the company, U.S. police officers engage in about 100,000 high-speed chases each year that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of lost time at work when officers are injured, insurance claims and liability lawsuits.
The StarChase system lets officers fire a plum-sized device at a vehicle, whether it is moving or stationary, at a range of 30 feet. When the device strikes the vehicle, it immediately affixes thanks to a specially formulated epoxy created by Calumet, Mich.-based Superior Polymer for this application. “That’s the secret sauce,” said Trevor Fischbach, the company’s vice president of business development.
In theory, the system is a great idea, said Stephen Devine, chief-projects section and patrol frequency coordinator for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“It certainly has some merit,” Devine said. “A lot of law enforcement nowadays don’t pursue. When we chase somebody into St. Louis, the city police will pull over and watch you — they don’t want to get involved because of lawsuits and liability. This device might allow them to keep track of the vehicle without hot pursuit. It’s an interesting concept.”
A vehicle-tagging device does pursuing police little good if it falls off during the chase. So StarChase conducted a 2000-mile drive test in a variety of weather conditions, including blistering heat and several thunderstorms. The device never fell off, according to Mandy McCall, chief operating officer. “Superior specializes in nasty, caustic environments, and they really responded to this challenge.”
The epoxy’s strength worries Devine just a little.
“It will be a problem if you can’t get the thing off the car,” Devine said. “Is it something that can be removed at the scene in case it goes off accidentally?”
“It’s not too difficult to remove,” said a StarChase spokesman. The epoxy loosens with the application of rubbing alcohol and leaves no traces on the car’s exterior, he said. In addition, field tests showed that the device leaves no dents on trunks or bumpers, in part because those areas are reinforced. Tests also indicated that the device wouldn’t shatter automotive glass.
The primary reason is that the system, which is CAD and AVL compatible, uses low-pressure compressed air (85 PSI) to launch the tagging device, about what a paintball gun uses to fire a pellet, which is considered non-lethal force. An officer can fire the device while inside the vehicle or when walking toward the suspect using a hand-held wireless device, in case the suspect takes off. StarChase plans to eventually add a hand-held device launcher.
Embedded in the device is a global positioning satellite chip set, a wireless modem and a power supply. The GPS feature provides latitude and longitude coordinates at regular intervals, which are sent wirelessly to a backbone server. The server records the location data in addition to the speed at which the pursued vehicle is traveling. The data is court admissible as it is stored on a secure server in a non-disclosed location, according to Sean Sawyer, StarChase president and CEO.
The company is about to begin field-testing the device in order to get input from those who will be using it.
“A lot of people try to force widgets on police, and they might not be the right solutions for them,” Fischbach said. “We’re looking to offer something police officers have given their blessing to. We want to walk before we run.”