Key TakeawaysPolice are increasingly turning to GPS gadgets that track fleeing cars rather than engaging in high-speed pursuits. Experts say that car chases can be dangerous and kill hundreds of people every year. Some police departments have banned car pursuits after incidents when innocent bystanders died. franckreporter / Getty Images
A high-tech gadget can help police track down fleeing criminals without having to chase them.
The Star Chase gadget can be launched from a police cruiser onto another vehicle to track it during a pursuit. It follows the runaway suspects using GPS, and recently was adopted by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office in Ohio to prevent high-speed chases. Experts say that avoiding pursuits can save lives.
"Chases are insanely dangerous," former federal law enforcement officer Leonard A. Sipes Jr. said in an email interview.
"You never know what the driver is going to do. Drivers are often young and under the influence of drugs or alcohol and are operating on pure adrenalin. They will put themselves and others in danger for minor offenses."
Shooting GPS to Catch Suspects
This new technology could help keep chases safe or even from happening in the first place. The Star Chase GPS Launcher sits behind the grille of a police vehicle and can be triggered by the officer. The GPS device sticks to the suspect's vehicle using an "aggressive adhesive."
"When a pursuit or drive-off seems imminent, officers can deploy a Vehicle Mounted GPS Launcher tag from inside or outside of the patrol vehicle via a console or remote key fob," the company writes on its website.
"If needed, the suspect vehicle data can also be shared with neighboring jurisdictions, enhancing interagency collaboration and community relations."
Car chases claim many lives each year. From 1996 to 2015, an average of 355 people were killed annually in pursuit-related crashes, according to a study by the US Department of Justice.
Police chases are dangerous because they usually turn into driving at a higher speed than is safe, Melanie Musson, a vehicle safety expert with AutoInsuranceEZ.com, said in an email interview.
"When they happen in residential areas, the person fleeing is generally driving at an unsafe speed and paying attention to what's behind him (police) rather than what's in front of him (pedestrian and vehicle traffic)," Musson said.
"They may not be able to react to conditions safely."
One of the most common reasons suspects flee is that they're driving a stolen vehicle, Musson pointed out. And most cars are stolen in crowded cities. "The biggest safety worries concern innocent bystanders," she said. "Is catching a bad guy worth risking the life of an innocent bystander?"
GPS tracking devices can help reduce accidents, Musson said. The trackers can be "deployed onto the fleeing suspect's car to allow law enforcement to track the suspect's vehicle and prepare for a safer arrest in a more tactically appropriate environment," she added.
Banning Car Chases
Some police departments have banned car pursuits after incidents when innocent bystanders died. In Atlanta, police temporarily put an end to car chases after a series of high-speed pursuits left innocent drivers dead.
New regulations allow Atlanta police to engage in pursuits only when they have direct knowledge that the fleeing suspect has committed or attempted to commit a forcible felony, and that the suspect's escape poses an imminent danger.Cavan Images / Getty Images
But car chases don't have to be dangerous, Sipes said. "There are ways of mitigating the level of danger by simply keeping the vehicle in sight and not being on their bumper at high speeds; they will make a mistake or crash if left on their own," he added.
Police have to use their judgment when they decide whether to pursue a fleeing car. "What an officer does, depends on the circumstances," Sipes said.
"If [the offender] is running from a traffic stop, the officer is not going to endanger the public. The license number will allow appropriate action. If a known violent offender has just committed a homicide, officers will do whatever is necessary to take the person into custody."
Tracking technology could get even more high-tech, Sipes predicted. "There will come a day when police vehicles will launch drones and supply coordinates and take photos of the driver, vehicle, and residence," he said.