New device to aid in police chases being used by Duluth police

by: Tony Thomas Updated:


DULUTH, Ga. - A new high-tech device is helping one local police agency put an end to high-speed chases.

Duluth police are the first in the state to use the StarChase system. It's a James Bond-worthy device that shoots a canister out the front of the police car and sticks a GPS tracking device on the back of a fleeing vehicle.

Police say they are then able to back off the high speeds and simply track the suspect vehicle on a computer screen at slower speeds.

"In police work, pursuits are probably the most dangerous thing that we do," said Maj. Don Woodruff, with the Duluth Police Department.

Evidence of that is scattered across roads around metro Atlanta, where dangerous and sometimes deadly crashes have resulted from pursuits.

In Duluth, Officer Anthony Thaxton's squad car is equipped with the system.

"We don't have 700 police cars doing an LA police chase, we don't have worry about any of that because we can just follow it," Thaxton told Channel 2’s Tony Thomas.

Police set up a demonstration of the system for Thomas in an empty parking lot. The device is hidden behind the grill inside the police car.

Drivers can aim and fire the device either from a stop or at high speeds. Once the canister sticks, any officer with an Internet connection can track the suspect’s vehicle location.

"We can either wait for it to stop or we can coordinate with other agencies and set up stop sticks," Thaxton said. "Most people think they were rear-ended, that's what I've had a lot of people think that they've been rear-ended, but they have no idea they have a live GPS on their car."

The system can be fired from inside the car while it's moving or by a remote control keychain device when the officer is out of his vehicle trying to talk to the driver.

Thaxton says he's used his device five times so far, only missed once. Police say the device is legal since they only use it on fleeing suspects or drivers when they already have probable cause that a crime has been committed.

The system is designed by a Virginia company. The company says its device has an 80 percent apprehension rate when used with no injuries or fatalities.

Studies show a suspect slows down within 10 miles per hour of the speed limit within 1:45 of a device being attached to their car.

"We are hoping it's going to be the next Taser," said StarChase representative Dave Respess. "The criminal knows that most departments have no pursuit policies so the last thing they want to do once that officer backs off is to be noticed again so they try to slow down to blend in with traffic."

Duluth police commanders believe the device is the wave of the future.

"It is a great technological advance that allows us to do the apprehension in a safer manner," Woodruff said.

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