Safe chase: Technology catches suspects without high-speed pursuits

Dozens of people in the San Antonio area have been killed over the years during police pursuits. The grim statistic has forced the San Antonio Police Department and other departments to revise their policies regarding when they will engage in chasing a suspect.

The Austin Police Department now uses pursuit technology that has been credited with keeping the community safer.

APD provided KENS 5 with video showing a suspect who tested his luck by deciding not to stop when being pulled over by an officer.

What the suspect didn’t know was that the police cruiser behind him was equipped with a GPS launcher system called StarChase. It shoots a tiny GPS tag out of the front of the patrol car. The tag attached to the back of the suspect’s vehicle, allowing officers to back off.

The GPS tag allowed APD to follow the suspect’s movements from a computer and then capture the suspect later. The APD video shows just one of about 40 times since 2013 that APD has used the pursuit technology to track suspects without needing to chase them.

“The most important piece: No community member, no suspect and no officers have been injured,” APD chief Art Acevedo said.

He said his department engages in more than 100 pursuits a year. APD has 10 vehicles equipped with StarChase.

“It’s not cheap. It’s about $5,000 per unit, but when you’re talking about human life, it’s worth the investment,” Acevedo said.

KENS 5 got a firsthand look at how the technology works. A laser allows officers to aim where they want the GPS tag to stick. Police say sometimes they prefer to tag a suspect’s vehicle before a pursuit even begins.

Officers also have a key fob allowing them to shoot the GPS tag if the suspect tries taking off when the officer is outside of his or her vehicle.

“What’s happened now in a couple of occasions is (that) suspects — when they hear the ‘thump’ from the application — they know about StarChase and they don’t even bother running,” Acevedo said. “They just pull over.”

“It’s not good for every situation, but when it can be used, I recommend using it,” APD Officer J.W. Cummins said. “It’s another tool in our pocket to use when we have it.”

SAPD tells KENS 5 that Chief William McManus is aware of StarChase and is currently researching the pursuit technology along with other companies that produce the same product.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office says that while it’s always exploring new technology to help keep the community safe, the department is not considering purchasing the technology at this time.

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