Perhaps no other law enforcement operation is more dangerous for officers and the public they serve than the high-speed vehicle pursuit. Stories of officers and innocent civilians killed in these actions are numerous and tragic.
That's why inventor Trevor Fischbach came to the conclusion that there had to be a way to bring vehicle pursuits to a more successful and safe conclusion. Fischbach got the idea after having a conversation with an officer about the dangers of the job. When that officer mentioned that the only way to capture a fleeing suspect in a vehicle was through "brute force and persistence," Fischbach's wheels started to turn. Shortly after that conversation, he patented the concept of using a patrol car-mounted launcher to shoot a GPS tracking device at a fleeing vehicle.
That became one of the key foundation patents for StarChase. But the development of the technology was a long slog for Fischbach and the company's engineers from idea to prototype to beta to now, when StarChase is rolling out its Pursuit Management Technology nationwide to law enforcement.
The StarChase system consists of a control panel inside the patrol car, a compressed air launcher mounted under the car's grille, a tag that contains the GPS tracking unit, and software that allows the GPS unit to be monitored over a secure Web mapping interface. A laser and audible aiming system let officers target the fleeing vehicle while keeping their eyes on the road.
StarChase offers multiple tactical uses. For example, a driver flees from the police, either during a traditional traffic stop or in response to lights and sirens. The officer ensures the offender's vehicle is within range and the tag is deployed onto the suspect's vehicle either as the vehicle pulls away or during a pursuit.
With the GPS tracker in place, all of the officers involved in the pursuit can slow down. StarChase does not automatically end the pursuit, but it does reduce the danger. "Once StarChase has been deployed what we see is a much lower level of adrenaline among the pursuing officers," Fischbach says.
"Typically when the officers slow down so does the suspect, often to within five to 10 miles of the posted speed limit," he explains.
The idea behind StarChase is to maintain surveillance of the suspect vehicle, then track it to a location where it can be stopped and the driver taken into custody. National Institute of Justice (NIJ) research shows that StarChase results in apprehension of the suspect in about 80% of cases. In contrast, research into traditional pursuit methods—including radio surveillance—shows that they are about 70% effective.
Not only is StarChase more effective, Fischbach argues that it is also safer than traditional methods. "StarChase slows things down for law enforcement so they get the bad guy and have more time to make better decisions," he says.
Fischbach also believes that StarChase can be an extremely effective tool for agencies that have restrictive vehicle pursuit policies. "It's (also) an alternative that allows an agency to have both a restrictive pursuit policy and capture the offenders," he says. "I hope that over time, StarChase will fit into every agency's use-of-force continuum."
StarChase is available to agencies through a variety of different programs. One of the most popular is called the "100 Club." The 100 Club supplies an agency with 10 systems, installation, and unlimited projectiles for one year for a price of $5,000 per unit.
New features on the StarChase system include a faster charging air compressor, increased reliability and ruggedization of the hardware, and a much faster refreshing GPS signal that now works with Google Street View. "The Google Street View interface is really kind of eerie," Fischbach says. "It's like the officer or dispatcher monitoring the pursuit is riding with the suspect."