Readers here are all too aware of what some regard as a proliferation of speedy chases involving people who – for a variety of reasons – choose to flee from law enforcement at potentially dangerous speeds, sometimes with disastrous results.
It is usually after one of these incidents that we receive a flood of suggestions on how local police might better control these chases, so that the imminent threat of arrest is lessened and potentially deadly evasive maneuvers are not employed by those on the run.
Among the suggestions we often receive is for “some sort of tracker” police can aim and fire at a fleeing car, then stand off and monitor its progress and whereabouts remotely, without fear of endangering the public at large.
Heck of an idea and, as we suspected, it is currently available (has been since around 2006 or so). And, as it turns out, one of the little Star Wars-type gizmos was deployed during a chase down our local highways yesterday.
Branded and sold to law enforcement as StarChase, the car-to-car tracking device (fired from its mount on the grill of a police cruiser and using high tech glue to keep the tracker affixed, limpet-like, to the bumper of the targeted vehicle) is a little expensive ($250 or so a deployment) and, for a number of reasons, has yet to gain widespread acceptance by law enforcement.
Proponents argue the technology gives officers an alternative in situations where the public may be endangered by a driver evading police for comparatively minor offenses – and where a bumper-to-bumper high-speed pursuit may pose an undue risk to the public, the officer, and the miscreant.
One issue that has popped up preventing more frequent use of the tracker is that citizens – even meth-addled, adrenalin junkie car burglars – have a reasonable expectation of privacy in this country and having a tracker fired at and clinging to your car like an abalone to a rock may not meet that test. It has been argued that police need a warrant before deploying something like StarChaser, not always feasible when you’re running down a local road or highway at 90 mph or more.
Supporters say that deploying StarChase, or other available tracking device, is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment because the officers have probable cause to believe the vehicle they are tracking is being used in the commission of or during the active escape from a crime.
And while data is still being collected on the overall efficacy of the system during field use, its creators and supporters maintain that it is taking the risk of high-speed flight out of pursuits and making it possible for law enforcement to move in and make arrests under more controlled circumstances.