State Patrol considers use of ‘sticky’ GPS trackers for car pursuits

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TACOMA — The Washington State Patrol is considering purchasing new technology that can track a fleeing car by firing a sticky GPS device onto the vehicle from an air cannon that would be mounted on the front of the police cruiser.

The State Patrol said the device would negate the need to stay on a suspect’s tail at high speeds through traffic and hopefully reduce the risks of  fatal chases and potentially save the lives of innocent bystanders. The State Patrol was involved in 200 pursuits between January and August; several of those pursuits ended in injury collisions.

gpstracker“Pursuing is dangerous.  We all know it.  I’ve had my fair share of them and we all know how dangerous they can become,” State Patrol Sgt. Jason Hicks said Monday.

In May, a car thief being pursued by Seattle police drove through Denny Park and ran over a 9-year-old girl walking with her mother, breaking the girl’s leg.

“We heard tires screeching behind us and, like anybody, we just turned around to see what the sound was.  It was an enormous SUV just barreling down the sidewalk,” said Rebecca Wirtel.

That same month, in Snohomish County, police pursuits ended in two fatalities — one in Everett, where a man in a stolen truck flipped his vehicle, hitting and killing 40-year-old Rachel Kamin of Mukilteo.

The new GPS tracking technology is called Star Chase.  An air gun cannon is mounted on the front grill of a police cruiser and holds cartridges containing the GPS tracking devices.  A laser beam helps an officer aim and then fire the device via a button inside their car.

Each individual air cannon costs $5,000, and and, with about 1,000 state troopers working speed patrol on the highway, installing them on all the cars would run a minimum of $5 million.

“We’re interested in it. We’re paying attention to it, but we’re not going to invest that kind of money until we know for sure it’s a viable option for our agency and is something that’s going to work,” said Hicks said.

Police agencies in Iowa, Texas, Florida and Arizona are using the Star Chase technology.  Hicks said the State Patrol would likely conduct a study of one of those agencies before making a decision.  The Legislature would have to approve funding.

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  • The World is Ending

    The penalty for injuring or killing someone when running from the police needs to be increased. If someone is killed as a result of someone trying to run away then they should be charged with murder; However the definition of eluding would have to be strictly defined, so some cop can't say you tried to elude them when you weren't stopped in something like the length of you car.

  • Kelli Overfield

    NO, NO and Heck NO! I want the public to know what will happen if the state decides to purchase this GPS Cannon system for it's law enforcement agencies fleet of patrol vehicles. It will not increase safety in high speed pursuits it will do one thing…cause the officer to take his eyes off the road to operate the GPS cannon system and once the officer takes his eyes off the road for that split second "collision" and we are seeing one more officer/trooper involved accident in the news. Bottom line is with all the patrol vehicles ending up in traffic accidents some involving injury to the public and perhaps the one or two fatalities reported in the news we don't need to keep throwing gadgets into these patrol vehicles to take the officers attention away from the road. The officers have enough to do their job and if it's high speed pursuits they want to make safer….simply do not give any officer behind the wheel the OK to operate the vehicle in a unsafe rate of speed. This will help reduce damage to agency vehicles and possible injury to the officer and public.