Byron police tag, track fleeing vehicles with GPS system

bpurser@macon.comFebruary 6, 2014 

BYRON -- High-speed chases are risky, but Byron police have a new crime-fighting tool that allows officers to fall back but still catch the suspect after he has sped away.

“During a vehicle chase, of course, high speeds, there’s dangers involved -- dangers to our public, dangers to us as officers and dangers to unfortunately the criminal we’re chasing,” said Byron Police Chief Wesley Cannon. “Our biggest concern is someone having an accident, getting hurt, and our first priority is protecting our public. StarChase technology helps prevent that.”

StarChase is a GPS tag and tracking system that fires a GPS projectile from the front of a police car to the back of a fleeing suspect’s vehicle from about two car lengths away or less, explained David Respess, training and account manager for the Florida-based company.

Once the vehicle is tagged, the officer can fall back while a dispatcher tracks the vehicle’s movements, he said. This allows authorities to intercept the suspect without risking lives and property damage during a chase.

Respess, whose comments came Thursday during an overview of the system for law enforcement officers from Houston and Peach County agencies, demonstrated how it works in front of the Byron Police Department.

The system is simple and includes four basic components, Respess said.

A compressed air launcher is mounted on the grill of a police vehicle and uses a laser to acquire the target. A GPS tracking tag, which is a short, fat projectile, adheres to the vehicle and transmits coordinates.

The GPS tag is deployed from a console inside the police vehicle or remotely from a keypad. The keypad allows an officer to launch the GPS tracking tag at the push of a button in the event the suspect flees after being pulled over but before the officer walks to the driver’s side.

A secure portal allows for a dispatcher, an officer and/or administrators to track the vehicle in real time. The person viewing the portal cannot only see a map but also live footage of what the suspect is seeing.

The system is utilized in the same circumstances a police chase is initiated in that law enforcement officers first attempt to pull over a vehicle after activating lights and sirens. The GPS tag is launched after the driver starts to flee.

Respess estimated at least one person dies every day in a police chase, with 33 percent of those innocent bystanders, he said.

Also, more than 55,000 injuries are reported each year, and juries awarded more than $1.3 billion in damages from 1998-2007, according to a StarChase brochure handed out at the presentation.

Many agencies have implemented no-chase policies because of the risks of high-speed chases, and criminals know it, he said.

The GPS tag and tracking provides an alternative that reduces safety risks but allows for the arrest of the suspect.

Byron police won the system to outfit one vehicle at last year’s conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Philadelphia.

Cannon said he expects to outfit about five more vehicles within the next six months, with plans to eventually install the system on all the agencies 16 vehicles. He estimated doing so would cost about $5,000 per vehicle. He thinks he may be able to use money generated from vehicle seizures in drug busts to pay for equipping vehicles with the technology.

He also wants to send a message to criminals.

“We want the criminals to know we have this technology,” Cannon said. “There’s no need in running.

“Just stop. And if you’re afraid we’re going to catch you, just stay out of Byron. Don’t even come here because you cannot get away with this technology,” he said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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