MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Technology is helping law enforcement reduce the risk of a high-speed chase.
The new tool, from Star Chase, allows officers to track a fleeing vehicle with a GPS device, rather than pursuing the suspect in a squad car.
High-speed chases are not just dangerous situations for officers and suspects. Innocent bystanders and drivers are also at risk.
May 12, 2011 started like any other day for architect Tom Blanck.
“I was just going to meet a client with drawings and stuff, and talk about a project,” Blanck said.
Detoured by a car fleeing police, the chase ended when Blanck’s van got in the way.
“When I was hit, I knew I had been hit very, very, hard by something,” Blanck said. “I remember as I was flying through the air, about the impact the back window of the van, looking up at the ceiling of the van, saying ‘Oh, this is like Hollywood.’”
Two years later, he can still see the signs of the wreck near Rice Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in St. Paul. Gray paint that spilled from his van still covers the sidewalk, marking the 225-foot path his van traveled upon impact.
The damage he suffered will last a lifetime.
“I still have somewhat limited short-term memory,” he said.
Blanck was one of nine innocent bystanders hurt that year in the nearly 700 police pursuits around the state, according to 2011 crime statistics from the FBI.
“There are times when the police have to chase people,” he said. “But, the big issue is, of course, how and when?”
St. Paul Police Sgt. Paul Paulos says officers consider those two questions whenever a driver refuses to stop.
“Whatever we can do to make sure that the public is safe,” Paulos said.
With safety in mind, their main tools to help end chases are stop sticks, which punctures tires. Used by agencies around the state, they’re often the best method to safely stop a fleeing vehicle.
“I don’t think an officer really ever wants to get into a high-speed chase, even though TV portrays it as the glorified moment,” he said.
Just to our south, Iowa State Patrol is testing out a new way to end a chase. Trooper Tim Sieleman’s vehicle holds the state’s only Star Chase device.
“It’s a toy that I would’ve never dreamt [of] 16 years ago or 17 years ago,” Sieleman said.
The system is mounted to the front of his squad and armed with two GPS trackers. Sieleman only needs to aim and then fire the round, sending the tracker on the fleeing vehicle.
“Definitely a game changer,” he said.
A chase is now replaced with a computer screen, which reveals that driver’s every move. The technology helped Sieleman late last month.
“I had a successful deployment on a vehicle that was not stopping for me,” he said. “At that point in time, he started dropping his speed, thinking that he was getting away, when in fact, we were on him the entire time.”
Back in Minnesota, Blanck wonders if technology could have changed the course of his future.
“I still become confused,” he said. “If I work four, five hours on something, I really just can’t do that.”
It’s the lasting impact of a risk that can’t always be avoided.
The Star Chase tracker costs $5,000 per car.
It’s not in use by any law enforcement agencies in Minnesota, but officers say they are always looking for innovative ways to keep the public safe.