The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

October 29, 2013

Iowa patrol acquires GPS tracking system

The Associated Press

DES MOINES — The Iowa State Patrol has bought a GPS system that lets a trooper track a suspect vehicle instead of giving dangerous chase.

Patrol spokesman Sgt. Scott Bright told The Des Moines Register that only one state patrol car is equipped with the StarChase system but more could be coming.

“It’s a new technology that’s come out that’s going to protect a lot of people,” Bright said. “We don’t want to take somebody’s innocent life because of pursuit.”

Under the system, a trooper pushes a button to launch a GPS tracking projectile from the patrol vehicle’s grille. The projectile, which can be fired up to three car-lengths away, sticks to the fleeing vehicle, allowing the trooper to back off. When the fleeing vehicle slows or stops, troopers can close in and make an arrest.

Trooper Tim Sieleman used the system last week when he tried to stop a vehicle in Council Bluffs that he thought was stolen.

When he turned on his lights, the driver sped up, ran a red light and entered a construction zone. Sieleman shot out the GPS device, which attached to the vehicle’s license plate and the trooper backed off. The vehicle was found later in Omaha, Neb., though the driver escaped.

Despite its advantages, some agencies remain skeptical about the system.

Trevor Fischbach, president of Virginia-based Star Chase, which builds the GPS launcher, said cost is the biggest issue for police agencies. The device costs about $5,000, and each projectile costs $500.

“Proper funding and support are an ongoing challenge for them and for us,” Fischbach said.

He adds, though, that by avoiding the cost of wrecked patrol cars or other damage, the system could quickly pay for itself.

Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Jason Halifax also had doubts about whether the system would work in cities.

Unlike state troopers, who chase vehicles on roads with long, straight stretches, chases within cities involve tight turns on city streets, making it difficult to get close enough to fire the projectile.

“It doesn’t seem like that feasible of an option for us in town,” Halifax said. “But we certainly are open to new things.”

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