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Case Study of a GPS Tracking Tool Designed to Aid in Police Vehicle Pursuits

When policy, practice, and technology are integrated, the implementation of that technology has a greater impact on outcomes.
Date Published
July 11, 2017

Police vehicle pursuits may end in crashes that result in significant property damage and sometimes loss of life. Law enforcement agencies have attempted to address the issue through changes in policy and training, and the introduction of new technologies and methods for slowing down or tracking a vehicle also can play a part in mitigating the situation.

The National Criminal Justice Technology Research, Test, and Evaluation Center (funded by NIJ and hosted by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory) performed an independent assessment of one of these technologies, a remote vehicle tracking system developed by StarChase, LLC, in part with NIJ funding.[1] The Center contacted 10 law enforcement agencies that use the technology and ultimately conducted case studies at three of them, which differed in size, location, and pursuit policies. The assessment, using both quantitative data and qualitative feedback, was not an evaluation of the system’s capabilities but rather a study of how the agencies used the technology. Data was generalized to prevent the agencies’ use of the system from becoming public knowledge, but researchers do present a side-by-side comparison of their use in their report.

StarChase uses a compressed-air device, mounted behind a police vehicle grille, to launch an adhesive projectile containing a global positioning system (GPS) module that attaches itself to a suspect vehicle and transmits real-time coordinates back to law enforcement. This allows officers to track the vehicle from a distance and at a safe speed. Being able to track the vehicle from a distance also reduces the need for quick decisions by the officers and gives them time to think about the best way to engage the suspects.

The research team, comprised of former law enforcement professionals, system engineers, and data analysts, produced both general findings related to tracking technologies and findings specific to the implementation of StarChase.

General findings:

  1. GPS-enabled pursuit technologies provide remote tracking capability when line-of-sight tracking is not feasible.
  2. The success of a pursuit technology relates at least, in part, to how well an agency integrates it into existing pursuit policies and practices.
  3. Technology implementation may be more successful if an individual or individuals advocate for its use.
  4. Agencies that do not follow an established process for deploying and evaluating new technologies may not be able to effectively assess their impact and effectiveness.
  5. Agencies that plan to deploy and evaluate a new technology would benefit from an end-to-end assessment process that includes collecting comparable baseline data.

StarChase-specific findings:

  1. Agency use of the system varied. Some agencies used it to tag a vehicle during or prior to a pursuit and then used it to track the vehicle from a distance, but in other instances, agencies developed a different use for the technology.
  2. In two of the three case studies, data suggests that StarChase, when properly deployed, had a positive impact.
  3. The end user officers stated that StarChase is a helpful tool, but that it is not a comprehensive solution for use in all possible pursuit scenarios.

The research team concluded that StarChase’s impact proved difficult to assess comprehensively due to factors such as inconsistent baseline and use data, varying agency pursuit policies and uses, and the relative newness of the technology. As a tool for providing options in a pursuit situation, the effectiveness of StarChase appears directly related to an agency’s pursuit policy and technology implementation decisions. Implementing a technology such as StarChase does not mean that an agency will never need to pursue a suspect vehicle at high speeds, but it serves as one strategy to help reduce the number of such pursuits and promote increased safety for officers and the public.

About This Article

The work described in this article was supported by NIJ cooperative agreement number 2013-MU-CX-K111 awarded by NIJ to The National Criminal Justice Technology Research, Test, and Evaluation Center, which is operated by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

This article is based on the report "Pursuit Technology Impact Assessment, Version 1.1" (pdf, 53 pages).

Date Published: July 11, 2017