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GPS Tracking Technology Deemed Beneficial by Privacy Advocates

Author: Trevor Fischbach, StarChase

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2014-05-11
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In the early morning hours of April 2, 2014, a father drove his young daughter to the home of a friend so they could take the bus together to school. As he turned left with the green light, his compact car was struck broadside by a speeding pick-up truck, driven by two brothers who were fleeing police. According to witnesses and preliminary reports, the truck exceeded 100 MPH in its effort to evade police. The father and daughter were killed instantly and the community of Antelope California searched for answers.

Tragedies resulting from high-speed police chases are unfortunately all too common. In fact, more than one person in the U.S. dies each day and many others - 55,000 people annually - are injured due to pursuit-related crashes. Innocent bystanders are victims in more than 1/3 of these incidents.

Beyond the personal toll in terms of lives lost or forever changed are the damages from lawsuits, medical bills, insurance claims, lost wages and resources consumed by the aftermath of each event. An estimate of jury-awarded damages stemming from pursuit crashes tops a staggering $1.3 billion according to case summaries collected between 1988 and 2007 by the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement (AELE) Law Library. This number pales when out of court settlement related damages are factored into the true financial loss calculation.

The balance between enforcement of the law and public safety is admittedly delicate. Police must be able to do their jobs and criminals cannot expect that fleeing in a vehicle will result in escape. The public - especially bystanders who find themselves in harm’s way - must also be kept safe.

There are many people looking at how to address this daunting challenge through changes to pursuit policies and techniques, as well as with new technologies.

 

A Life-Saving Bullet

GPS tracking technologies for pursuit management, often called “GPS bullets” (pictured, right), are among the most promising alternatives to high-speed police chases. Quite literally, a well-placed GPS tag on a fleeing vehicle is a ‘bullet’ that can save lives.

The less-than-lethal GPS pursuit management system is comprised of two small, cylinder-shaped projectiles each containing a miniature GPS tracker, tipped with an industrial-strength adhesive. The launching mechanism, powered by compressed-air, is mounted inside the grille of police cruisers (pictured, below left).

Using a control panel mounted within easy reach, pursuing officers arm the system which activates a laser aiming mechanism that “paints” the back of the fleeing vehicle. Officers can adjust the trajectory of the projectile by toggling the launcher up or down, and then launch the GPS tag which sticks to the back of the suspect’s vehicle.

As many pursuits start once officers are approaching a suspect’s stopped vehicle on foot, a remote can be used to deploy a GPS tag when the officer is outside of the cruiser.

Immediately, the tag transmits GPS coordinates back to police dispatch, showing the precise location and speed on a web-based map - in essence, providing a “virtual helicopter” view of the suspect’s vehicle. This allows the officer to ease off of the pursuit, thereby enabling the fleeing vehicle to reduce their speed.

The technology offers a safer alternative while simultaneously resulting in a successful arrest. Data collected by the National Institutes of Justice (2013 NIJ Technical Report) shows that the average suspect slows to within 10 MPH of the posted speed limit after less than 2 minutes of a cruiser backing off of the pursuit. Further, GPS pursuit management technologies result in an apprehension rate that exceeds 80 percent.

 

Privacy vs. Safety – All Clear

Surveillance technologies, particularly those which use GPS for tracking suspects, have been carefully scrutinized by privacy advocates and in the courts. Recent rulings have deemed unlawful the use of GPS tracking technology for monitoring suspects’ movements, however leading privacy advocates support the use of GPS tracking during pursuits.

After weighing the interests of public safety and individuals’ privacy, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a ruling in February 2014 that found no Fourth Amendment issues with using GPS tagging technology when used during a police pursuit.

According to the ACLU’s statement, the GPS pursuit management technology "has the potential to obviate the need for high-speed pursuits by police cars through cities and towns, which are dangerous and kill hundreds each year, with a third or more of those fatalities being innocent bystanders."

The ACLU has indicated their approval since StarChase is used when police have probable cause and/or exigent circumstances exist which preclude the need for a warrant. The ACLU also specifies that the tracking device be removed as soon as the suspect is apprehended, and that the police make every effort to catch the suspect as soon as possible.

 

Successful Outcomes

Since 2006, StarChase has installed its pursuit management systems in police departments in more than a dozen states. We routinely hear stories from officers who have used StarChase in countless arrests - without crashes or damage to people or property. The walls of our Virginia Beach, VA offices are full of thank you notes and accolades from the many officers using StarChase.   

Some of their stories are chilling: a pick-up that was tagged, followed and intercepted without incident. The pick-up contained 9 young women who were the victims of a human trafficking ring. Had the officer not used StarChase to tag the vehicle, he would have used traditional high speed pursuit methods to apprehend. Instead of an orderly arrest and freedom, the outcome could have likely been very different for the young women stacked in the open bed of the pick-up truck.

We agree with Law Enforcement and ACLU’s conclusion that StarChase is exceptional in that is proven effective in saving lives of both officers and citizens alike. Each time officers tag a fleeing suspect's vehicle, it represents the aversion of the many negative outcomes: crashes, lawsuits, injuries, and deaths that we so often read about. We hope that over time StarChase’s risk reducing technology makes its way to agencies and communities throughout the US.

 

President of StarChase, Trevor A. Fischbach invented and patented a “Method and System for Tracking a Vehicle.”  He joined forces with StarChase to further assist in the successful development of the StarChase Tagging and Tracking Pursuit Management System. Trevor leads the StarChase team and advisors to identify, negotiate and build strategic partnerships and technology-provider relationships.

For more information onStarChase, see http://starchase.com/

For further information resources, see:

https://www.aclu.org/blog/technology-and-liberty-criminal-law-reform/gps-bullets-allow-police-shoot-tracker-car

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/can-cops-legally-fire-gps-bullets-at-fleeing-cars-to-track-suspects/

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