StarChase technology helping end police pursuits

Story and photos by Kassi Nelson, NewsNetNebraska

A new tool is helping the Iowa State Patrol cut the chase and get straight to the arrest. The new tool is called StarChase and Trooper Tim Sieleman calls it revolutionary. He has been in over 30 police pursuits during his 16 years with the Iowa State Patrol. At first, he was skeptical about the new technology, until he got the chance to use it.

“It worked flawlessly. Nothing’s 100 percent, especially in this day and age, but so far we’re shooting 100 percent with StarChase,” Sieleman said.

Sieleman has used the new technology in two different pursuits. All he has to do is get within about two car lengths away from the violator. That’s when he can press a button from a launch pad in his vehicle to fire a GPS tracking tag. The tag shoots out from a compressed air launcher that has been mounted on the grill of his vehicle. The top of the tag is covered in an adhesive so when it hits the bumper of the violator’s automobile, it sticks. Then he can back off and track the car from the laptop in his vehicle. Sieleman is currently the only Iowa State trooper with the device on his car, but says the Iowa State Patrol is looking at grants to equip five more vehicles.

Why is this technology important?

Research shows that high speed police chases are not only dangerous to the violator and police officers, but to innocent motorists as well. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, police pursuit related crashes kill, on average, 365 people a year. Many of them are innocent motorists. The Virginia based StarChase company hopes the device can end high risk police pursuits. The company says it’s own statistics have found that, on average, a fleeing suspect slows to within 10 miles of the posted speed limit less than two minutes after being tagged.

“Right when an officer has that tag, he lets everyone know he has made a deployment, that way everyone can slow down and not put anyone in danger,” Sieleman said.

GPS tag that shoots out of the launcher

According to legal sources police pursuits are not only dangerous but they can also be costly. In Nebraska, accidents that happen as a result of a police chase fall under the state’s strict liability statute. If a third party is injured during a police pursuit the city is strictly liable, and it doesn’t matter if the third party is hit by the violator or by the police officer.

Rod Confer, Lincoln City Attorney, said since the third party doesn’t have to prove negligence they have a good chance of recovering some amount of money from the lawsuit. There is one case pending in Lincoln right now. It’s the only one he’s seen since 2009.

Cost of technology

Just like a lawsuit, the technology also comes with a price tag. The launcher is $5,000 and the GPS rounds are $500. Confer isn’t sure if the price would offset money lost in potential lawsuits and said the gadget would be more intriguing if it were less expensive. But despite the price, Sieleman is sold.

“That’s a drop in the bucket when you compare it to somebody’s life,” he said.

Future of StarChase  

Firing pad inside the trooper’s vehicle

Besides Iowa the tool has worked successfully in Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. Deb Collins, Nebraska State Patrol spokesperson, said right now it’s taking a wait and see approach.

“It’s interesting technology. We’re always looking for tools to help us do our job in a safe and efficient manner, but at this time we have no plans to purchase,” Collins said.

Katie Flood, a spokeswoman for Lincoln Police Department, said the department may face legal barriers that prevents it from using this technology. Under current Nebraska law the department must obtain a district court warrant or court order to attach a GPS device on a suspect’s vehicle. Because of that, StarChase is not a tool the Lincoln Police Department plans to use in the immediate future.

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