Future Cops: Police Use Tactical Technologies to Catch Criminals

A suspected felon flees from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Rather than engage him in a dangerous, high-speed chase, the police pursue the suspect for just a few blocks.

Then the cops tag his car with a laser-guided, GPS tracking system, launched from the front grille of the squad car and guided by a laser-sight targeting system.

Once the "sticky" transmitter attaches to the fleeing car, the police track the suspect via real-time feeds over a wireless network.

They drop back, and let the crook slow down. When he stops, the cops speed up, and nab the lawbreaker as he is leaving his car.

Click here to see video of the StarChase system in action.

"We believe this technology and the trials associated with it, will potentially give police officers yet another tool to minimize the damaging risks associated with high-speed pursuits," LAPD Chief William Bratton said in a statement earlier this year. "My goal is to protect not only my officers, but the general public as well."

The technology has been in beta-testing in Los Angeles for just over a year. It is also being tested by the Suffolk County Police Department in New York.

Now the developer, StarChase, LLC, is moving forward with plans to commercialize the technology and is aiming to bring the product to market early next year.

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Funded by unnamed investors, StarChase, based in Virginia Beach, Va., holds a patent on the pneumatic gun, which uses compressed air to launch the projectile, which can stick to metal and plastic car surfaces, said company COO Mandy McCall.

"The pursuit tactics are set by each local municipality," said McCall. "But officers sit in the car and guide the projectile by laser from a control panel on the dashboard."

The LAPD's tactical-technology unit has helped with the development of the StarChase system, testing it on its Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC), said McCall.

Headed by Sgt. Dan Gomez, who reports directly to Chief Bratton, the unit has helped refine the projectile into a battery-powered device, which emits a tracking signal every three seconds.

"LAPD has three of the prototype systems," said Trevor Fischbach, StarChase vice president of sales and business development and inventor of the sticky car-tracker. "With the technology, they can track the vehicle they are pursuing, its direction and range of speed. There's also a mapping portal — that tells them the coordinates of where they parked, so they know when they've stopped driving."

Other Tactical Technologies

But the pursuit-management system is not the only new technology being deployed by the LAPD and other cutting-edge cops around the nation.

Working with Motorola Corp., the LAPD is also using a wireless video-surveillance network at the Jordan Downs public-housing project.

Real-time video from seven cameras at the project helps police officers track down suspects — before patrolmen even arrive on the scene.

Other police departments are exploring the use of new technologies, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a new form of airborne unit.

The UAVs, about the size of a model airplane, can replace helicopters and be more difficult for criminals to see, and would give police instant access to an overall aerial view of an emerging situation.

"Some of these UAVs have the capability of fitting into the trunk of a police vehicle and able to launch within 15 minutes," said Safa Egilmez, crime-fighting technology expert for the Santa Monica, Calif., police department in published report. "They also will have the capability of being very easy to control, able to transmit via wireless communication, the visible and infrared spectrum imagery directly to police vehicles computers as well as to the headquarters. This is suitable for tactical deployments as well as for event tracking."

Other police departments, mainly in small towns, are looking to use wireless Internet connections to share data about criminals.

"It seems that a lot of the criminals who are being pursued by the high-tech police departments in big cities are resettling into small towns," said Paul Smith, president of Blue Streak Connect, a police software developer based in Washington, D.C. "Then they are suspected of starting crime sprees in their new locales. Local sheriffs want to be able to track them and detect patterns of emerging crimes."

Using an Internet-connected database, which can be accessed wirelessly from a squad car or via a land-line back at police headquarters, small-town police are making records of their local crimes available for their colleagues at other police departments.

In Santa Monica, Egilmez uses a tablet PC and his training in geographic information systems to track crime across the city. His criminal-activity maps are available to police officers on the street, who can use the pattern detection to find criminals, maybe even when they're striking.

In Hoboken, N.J., authorities are using computing technology for less dangerous work — managing and monitoring parking.

The small city has a population of 40,000 people packed into one square mile of land along the highly-trafficked New Jersey Transit PATH line into New York City, which brings in many out-of-town parkers each day.

A spokesman for Motorola said that by embedding passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips into the parking tags of local residents, parking officials with mobile computers can quickly distinguish between residents and visitors, expedite the tag-reading process and immediately identify counterfeit parking permits.

Technology developers, however, are reluctant to divulge a lot of information about the new police devices. Police departments have asked them to be circumspect.

"We don't want to disclose the range of our tracker," said StarChase's Fischbach. "We don't want criminals to know what the capabilities are."