San Diego

New Technology Could Put Brakes on High Speed Pursuits

There are fewer than 100 law enforcement agencies using StarChase nationwide.

The latest technology being used in high speed police pursuits in Southern California can eliminate the chase altogether.

It's called StarChase.

For now, Tustin police are the only law enforcement agency in Southern California using it.

The most interesting part is how law enforcement officers get this technology on a suspect's vehicle.

The Orange County Sheriff's trainers observed Tustin Police Department's use of the technology.

"It's an impressive system,” Orange County Sheriff’s trainer Lt. Chris Thomas said.

Officers use a laser to sight the fleeing vehicle and then a grill mounted launcher uses compressed air to propel a canister with a GPS.

The canister uses a powerful adhesive to keep a grip on the vehicle and then the device immediately begins transmitting its location in real time to radio dispatch and pursuing officers.

Officers follow at a safe distance and speed, reducing the risks associated with high speeds, heightened adrenaline and emotions.

"I like the fact we can get distance and we can slow this situation down,” Thomas said.

"We don't have to drive at the high speeds, but we can still chase him in a safe way, in an electronic way,” Tustin Police Department Lt. Robert Wright said.

Wright said his department was involved in 10 pursuits in 2016, and only eight the year before. But this technology could eliminate the need for most, if not all, future police chases.

"It’s ideal for us and ideal for the community. It decreases that threat and danger that is involved in pursuits,” Wright added.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tracks chase-related deaths.

According to a USA Today analysis of those records, in 2014 there were 385 people killed in crashes that occurred during a police chase. That's up 16 percent from the year before.

"Pursuits are inherently dangerous,” Wright said.

Among the  2014 pursuit deaths, five were police officers, 73 were bystanders, and 77 were passengers in the fleeing vehicles.

In San Diego County, 21-year-old Marco Gutierrez was killed in an Oceanside police chase.

Investigators said pursuit speeds reached 80 miles per hour.

Gutierrez's brother-in-law Jorge Luis Lopez was behind the wheel of the getaway car. Lopez is serving a 19-year prison sentence for drunk driving and voluntary manslaughter.

But using GPS technology to track crime suspects in other situations has been challenged in court.

In an email to NBC 7, San Diego and Imperial counties ACLU Senior Policy Strategist Christie Hill said the group has not fully reviewed the new StarChase technology but "...Deployment of such tools and technologies must be guided by publicly-debated and approved policies that assure police accountability, create transparency, protect individual rights and allow for public scrutiny."

StarChase is limited to the pursuit of suspects already wanted for a crime. The intent of the technology is to reduce crashes, property damage, injuries and deaths.

Tustin police said in the pursuit of safer crime fighting, StarChase is right on target.

The department outfitted some of its fleet with the device but not all vehicles. So far, they have not used the technology in a real pursuit but officers say they are excited to have it.

There are fewer than 100 law enforcement agencies using StarChase nationwide.

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