Cannon-Fired GPS Units May End Dangerous Police Pursuits
October 30, 2013

Cannon-Fired GPS Units May End Dangerous Police Pursuits

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Police departments in Florida and Iowa are testing a new way of eliminating high speed chases that involves firing a GPS unit from an air cannon towards an escaping vehicle.

Much like the tee shirt cannons used at sporting events, the police version of this air-powered unit is installed in the grille of the patrol car. Once powered up, a trained officer can fire a GPS unit with a sticky back towards a speeding car. The hope is that the unit sticks to the car, allowing police officers to back away and track the vehicle from a computer and strategically position officers without giving chase.

At its best, the sticky GPS unit, made by a company called “StarChase,” could prevent the accidents and lost lives that frequently occur during dangerous high-speed chases. The air-cannon isn’t entirely accurate, however, a drawback that is magnified by the high price of the sticky GPS units.

Iowa State Patrol Trooper Tim Sieleman spoke with the Des Moines Register about the new StarChase units and said he’s already been able to safely track a fleeing suspect with the system.

“I was able to tag a vehicle and back completely out” said Sieleman. he added that after retreating from the chase, he and his police crew were able to track the car as it moved into Omaha.

The StarChase system consists of just two components: the air cannon, which hides behind the cruiser’s grille, and the GPS units, which the air-cannon launches. A trained officer targets the vehicle with an adjustable laser installed on the cannon. Once locked on, the officer can launch two GPS units towards the vehicle. When these units are deployed, they begin transmitting location data, which can be tracked in a secure browser by police. The GPS units can be tracked with an accuracy of between five and 75 feet.

The St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida is also testing out the StarChase system, but a video by a local ABC news affiliate explained that the unit wasn’t entirely accurate.

During a demo, only one of four units fired from the cannon stuck to a parked car. At $250 apiece, the real-world cost of this system could be quite significant. To court police departments, however, StarChase has begun installing air cannons in test vehicles free of charge, but police departments will still have to purchase their own GPS units.

According to Trevor Fischbach, president of StarChase, funding has been a long standing challenge for police departments looking to buy several of these systems for their cruisers. What’s more, the GPS units are only effective if they remain on the car.

According to the Des Moines Register, the driver that Officer Sieleman was pursuing was following along with the chase on a police scanner and heard that the GPS unit had been deployed. He was then able to remove the device and elude police. He was later caught an arrested.

Though recent stories focus on police departments in Florida and Iowa, StarChase has been pitching the system to communities for two years and departments in Arizona and Colorado have also been testing the system out.

According to an article posted on the StarChase website, 100 percent of all cars tracked with the system by Arizona’s highway patrol were located and recovered in their 2010 tests. In the same article, a StarChase spokesperson addressed the issue of fleeing drivers simply removing the GPS unit from their cars as happened in the Iowa chase.

“The crooks haven’t been aware they’ve been tagged. Even if they do discover it, it takes some real effort to remove the projectile,” said spokesperson Steve Pass.

High speed pursuits are incredibly dangerous and often deadly, so any attempt to reduce these chases is welcomed by police departments. This isn’t the first time high technology has been deployed to reduce or eliminate these chases, of course. One device, named NightHawk, remotely fires a spike strip into oncoming traffic in under two seconds. Once the strip has been run over, it automatically retracts back into its housing, allowing officers to stay out of traffic and still deploy a spike strip.