POLICE CHASES CONTINUED

Now that our last blog dealt with the dangers of police chases to innocent bystanders, we look at alternative to high speed chases. In an article in USA Today – The Journal News by Thomas Frank on August 9, 2015, he points out that “despite dangers of pursuits, police tech is slow to advance”. Despite thousands of deaths among fleeing driver, passengers, innocent bystanders and police, there have been only minor advances in the equipment police use to stop fleeing drivers and avoid injuries and deaths.

The Federal Government has funded fledgling technologies but have fallen well short of their hype of a 1996 Justice Department bulletin headline “high speed pursuit: new technologies around the corner”. The Justice Department has funded systems to obviate a chase by attaching a GPS device to a car that is fleeing to monitor its movements or by turning off a car’s engine remotely. Both would save lives by precluding high speed chases that killed 11,506 people from 1979 through 2013 according to USA Today analysis of federal records. The overwhelming number of police chases are for traffic violations and minor crimes. Some police departments restrict chases allowing pursuit of only people suspected of violent felonies or other serious crimes and more police departments should restrict chases for minor traffic violation and crimes. The most commonly used equipment is tire deflating spikes for the last two decades.

The article points out StarChases’ System that shoots an adhesive GPS device into a car’s exterior is mounted behind the grill of police cars and police use a console to fire the GPS tracker while driving. The Arizona Department of Public Safety has embedded the systems in seven cars and used the GPS system every time an officer gets within 30 feet of a fleeing vehicle. After attaching the device, police shadow it from a couple of blocks away and as soon as they stop, they are able to pounce on the fleeing vehicle. Unfortunately, the $5,000 purchase price has been a major reason police departments don’t use the StarChaser’s System. The devices are used by only 20 of the nation’s 18,000 police departments. A 2014 study of StarChaser for The Justice Department found that high speed deployments were the major difficulty with the system and that police would not want to risk driving so fast at a close proximity to a fleeing vehicle to shoot the GPS. Police departments also complain that sometime they fail to get that tracker to stick to a car or miss a target as the tracker bounces off the exterior. Austin police who use the device get about a 60% hit rate. Yet, in some cases, the thumping sound of the GPS tracker prompts a driver to stop. In 1996, the Justice Department created a task force to study the technology. The task force concluded “no single technology on the horizon” to improve pursuit safety.

The Justice Department gave $380,000 to StarChase and $300,000 to a New Mexico company to build a device that would fire microwaves at a moving automobile. The microwaves would affect the cars electrical system and cause the engine to turn itself off. The microwave systems has the ability to work up to 60 feet away. The company wants to add a database of all car types. However, they need $2 million to $3 million to get a database of all car types and they have not found funding for this.

Police departments that have helicopters use them to track fleeing vehicles allowing police cars to back off which usually cause a fleeing driver to slow. Once the pursuit ends, the helicopter’s pilot can guide police on the ground and use infrared cameras to track a suspect who get out of their car and run. But only 201 of the nation’s 941 largest departments had helicopters. There are about 18,000 police departments in the nation. The article concludes that “companies and department and agencies are going to have to spend money to find an alternative to police pursuits”.

If you or someone you know has been an innocent victim of a police chase, contact the law firm of Dominick J. Robustelli & Associates, PLLC at (914) 288-0800 or e-mail us at djrobolaw@aol.com.