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DPS uses tracking device to avoid high-speed chases

The Arizona Department of Public Safety is deploying a new high-tech gadget intended to reduce high-speed pursuits across the state, making it the first state-level agency to do so.

The StarChase Pursuit Management System allows officers to forego high-speed chases, instead allowing them to “tag” a suspect’s vehicle when he or she attempts to flee, according to Cmdr. Larry Scarber of the department’s Tucson division.

Scarber said the device is mounted inside a two-tube compressed air launcher within the patrol car’s grille. Two projectiles, which Scarber said measure approximately 4 inches by 1.5 inches, can be fired from the launcher via a laser-targeting system.

The second projectile exists in case of a miss or a misfire from the launcher’s first tube, but Scarber said there have been no unsuccessful fires from the StarChase launchers. That’s a good sign, he said, because each firing costs approximately $550.

After attaching to the rear of a car, the projectile acts as a GPS tracking device that transmits to dispatchers over the Internet. Dispatchers can then safely lead officers to wherever the suspect’s final destination may be. According to information provided by the company, StarChase’s coverage area extends across North America and abroad.

Scarber said that the StarChase system will be deployed mostly in the southern Arizona region.

“That’s where the bulk of pursuits happen,” he said. “Out of 334 pursuits that happened last year, around 50 percent were in southern Arizona.”

One such pursuit was documented in a press release from the Department of Public Safety, which said that the system was deployed in an attempted stop of a pickup truck on July 7. The tracking device allowed officers to follow the truck to a residence in Tucson where they found 10 undocumented immigrants and made an arrest of a suspected human smuggler.

Scarber was pleased with the new technology but said more time and more coverage will be needed before solid results can be reported.

“To really get the best safety, we need to expand the program,” he said, adding that the department was in the process of acquiring grants to pay for more StarChase technology.

Mary Swetits of Rhodes Communications, the firm which represents StarChase, would not disclose what other agencies across the nation are planning to deploy the technology. But she did confirm that there are other agencies field-testing the system now.

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