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Va. Beach company’s tracker reduces police chases

January 13, 2014 | Virginia News

News Image By Stacy Parker | The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH -- When former Chesapeake police officer David Respess pursued a driver who fled from Chesapeake into Virginia Beach after a theft several years ago, the suspect hit speeds faster than 100 mph on Interstate 64.

Lives were at risk during the chase, Respess said. It ended with the suspect crashing his car but walking away.

Respess, who led instruction for police vehicle pursuits, now works for StarChase, a Virginia Beach company that wants to put the brakes on high-speed, high-adrenaline pursuits.

The StarChase system fires a GPS “bullet” that sticks to a suspect’s vehicle and transmits its location. Respess shows clients how the system works in a demonstration vehicle.

“There were so many times that I could have used this technology,” he said.

The double-barreled launcher is mounted to a patrol car’s grill. The officer controls a laser target with an in-car console. The bullet, about the size and shape of a soup can, can be launched from inside the vehicle or with a remote. It shoots through the air up to two car lengths away.

A thick layer of adhesive on one end of the bullet keeps it attached to the car.

Trevor Fischbach, StarChase president, described the technology as an effective way to reduce risk to life and property.

“It takes the pressure off,” he said. “The officer is able to back off and coordinate in a much calmer way.”

A recent death in Virginia Beach has raised questions about the safety of pursuing fleeing suspects on the road.

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When a police pursuit does happen, the risk of injury or death often grows. In 2012, motor vehicle crashes involving police pursuits led to 342 fatalities in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The StarChase system is gaining attention from one of the federal government’s research arms. The National Institute of Justice is working with the company and several law enforcement agencies to test the system in the field.

Their data show that once an officer fires a GPS bullet and slows down, the suspect slows down, too.

“They don’t think they’re being chased anymore,” Fischbach said. “They’re just trying to blend in.”

The law enforcement agency’s command center uses Web-based software to keep tabs on the vehicle for up to 10 hours.  ...

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