State Patrol considers use of 'sticky' GPS trackers for car pursuits

TACOMA -- The Washington State Patrol is considering purchasing new technology that can track a fleeing car by firing a sticky GPS device onto the vehicle from an air cannon that would be mounted on the front of the police cruiser.

The State Patrol said the device would negate the need to stay on a suspect's tail at high speeds through traffic and hopefully reduce the risks of  fatal chases and potentially save the lives of innocent bystanders. The State Patrol was involved in 200 pursuits between January and August; several of those pursuits ended in injury collisions.

“Pursuing is dangerous.  We all know it.  I’ve had my fair share of them and we all know how dangerous they can become,” State Patrol Sgt. Jason Hicks said Monday.

In May, a car thief being pursued by Seattle police drove through Denny Park and ran over a 9-year-old girl walking with her mother, breaking the girl's leg.

“We heard tires screeching behind us and, like anybody, we just turned around to see what the sound was.  It was an enormous SUV just barreling down the sidewalk,” said Rebecca Wirtel.

That same month, in Snohomish County, police pursuits ended in two fatalities -- one in Everett, where a man in a stolen truck flipped his vehicle, hitting and killing 40-year-old Rachel Kamin of Mukilteo.

The new GPS tracking technology is called Star Chase.  An air gun cannon is mounted on the front grill of a police cruiser and holds cartridges containing the GPS tracking devices.  A laser beam helps an officer aim and then fire the device via a button inside their car.

Each individual air cannon costs $5,000, and and, with about 1,000 state troopers working speed patrol on the highway, installing them on all the cars would run a minimum of $5 million.

“We’re interested in it. We’re paying attention to it, but we’re not going to invest that kind of money until we know for sure it’s a viable option for our agency and is something that’s going to work,” said Hicks said.

Police agencies in Iowa, Texas, Florida and Arizona are using the Star Chase technology.  Hicks said the State Patrol would likely conduct a study of one of those agencies before making a decision.  The Legislature would have to approve funding.