High-speed pursuits are an inherently dangerous part of police work that affect officers and the public. And when innocent people die as a result, it's not only a tragedy but also a financial and public relations nightmare for the agencies involved. PursuitAlert is a new tool to help reduce this risk.
"When a chase is involved, the bad guy has already passed before you ever hear a siren," says Tim Morgan, a former South Carolina assistant sheriff who is now the founder and president of PursuitAlert. "This is a better way of notifying the public well in advance that there is an event taking place that they sure need to be aware of." This is why he refers to PursuitAlert as a 21st Century siren.
Morgan was in law enforcement for 37 years, and witnessed his share of injuries and deaths resulting from high-speed pursuits. But one incident in particular spurred him to do something about it. One of his agency's cars was involved in a high-speed chase, and the fleeing vehicle struck and killed a man who was driving to work. The man, who was almost the same age as Morgan's adult son and daughter, left behind a young widow and two small children.
"That troubled me more than any event in my career," Morgan says. It got him thinking about a way to prevent such tragedies. Inspired by the warning systems in place for tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and lightning, he decided to come up with a warning for high-speed chases. Now after years of development, PursuitAlert is being installed at the Oconee County (SC) Sheriff's Office.
Anyone can download the PursuitAlert app for free. And it will work anywhere in the country, or in the world, where agencies have their vehicles equipped with the PursuitAlert device. It delivers a visible alert, an audible alert, and push notification to the user's phone that a pursuit is occurring in the vicinity.
"Our technology will warn the public when they're entering an area of imminent danger and will also tell them when the danger has passed," Morgan says. But it's up to the driver to determine how to use that information. "And then they can decide what's in their best interest. They can pull over or at least keep their head on a swivel and be alert to what's going on."
A hardware unit containing GPS and a cell chip mounts in the patrol car. It works in concert with a simple antenna that lies on the dashboard. "The officer toggles one switch when he engages in a pursuit. Then it's an almost instantaneous notification that goes out to the members of the public that have the app in a 3-mile range."
In addition to being a high-speed pursuit warning system, PursuitAlert also offers other features requested by agencies testing the device. A Code 3 warning system alerts app users of any emergency vehicle approaching. A drop-pin button allows an officer to note the exact place of an event like a fleeing suspect dropping contraband during a pursuit. Other features include live tracking of patrol vehicles, patrol mapping, and over-the-air software updates. Morgan hopes to add predictive analytics in the future. The company is also working with automakers to have the PursuitAlert software installed in vehicles as they're manufactured so users don't have to download the app to their phones, but that is still in development.
Another main feature of PursuitAlert is the fact that the software will capture what Morgan calls all the dynamics of the pursuit, including the route, time, distance, and any pins that are dropped. Having this information at the ready can aid the prosecution in any court cases, and can help save officers time in writing their reports.
Each PursuitAlert unit mounted in an emergency vehicle costs around $500. A recurring cost of $12.50 per month covers connectivity, licensing fees, and maintaining the servers needed to operate the software that sends out notifications. Financing options are available.
"Our goal is to save lives, and I truly believe this technology will save lives and prevent injuries," says Morgan. He can't help but think that if the man in that car crash years ago had had PursuitAlert, it might have saved his life.