Abbotsford Police plan to use GPS ‘darts’ to track suspects

StarChase system to be purchased through funds donated to the Abbotsford Police Foundation

Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich gives the keynote address during the first Breakfast with the Chief event

It’s like something out of a James Bond movie.

A push of a button triggers a small “launcher” on the front of a vehicle to fire a sticky dart at the car ahead. The projectile contains a GPS tracker that monitors the vehicle’s location, leading to the potential capture of the occupant(s).

But this isn’t a movie it’s real-life technology planned for use by the Abbotsford Police Department (APD).

The APD could become the first police agency in Canada to adopt the equipment, known by the trade name StarChase Pursuit Management Technology.

The system, developed in 2006, is manufactured in Virginia Beach, Va., and is currently in use by agencies such as the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

It is used in high-risk traffic situations such as those involving stolen vehicles or impaired driving.

APD Const. Ian MacDonald said the goal is to protect public safety and have more arrests of the “bad guys.”

Police in Canada are restricted from engaging in high-speed vehicle pursuits, due to their obvious safety risks. MacDonald said although this is a good thing, it can result in a suspected criminal escaping arrest.

He said an example of where the StarChase system could be used is when a patrol officer runs a licence plate and finds that the vehicle in front of him or her is stolen.

Rather than turning on the patrol lights and attempting to pull over the vehicle which often results in the driver speeding away the GPS dart can be deployed.

MacDonald said this would only be done at slow speeds or when the cars are stopped, such as at a red light.

“We’re not talking about launching it across an intersection This is not designed to be shot at great distances, and it’s less than ideal if you’re moving at speed,” he said.

The suspect car would then be tracked, and police would intercept when it is safe to do so, such as when the driver parks the car at the side of the road or on a property and exits the vehicle.

MacDonald said the device would be used only in “live time” circumstances and would not be used as part of a longer-term investigation to track the comings and goings of a drug dealer, for example.

MacDonald said the APD first began considering the StarChase technology after upper-level management heard about it while attending a conference.

The devices cost $5,000 each, and the department hopes to start out with at least four, although a timeline for the implementation is not yet clear.

The money will be provided through the Abbotsford Police Foundation, which raises funds for equipment and programming not covered by the APD’s annual budget.

The most recent fundraiser, the first Breakfast with the Chief, was held Wednesday morning at the Ramada Plaza and Conference Centre, where Chief Bob Rich announced the APD’s plans for the new technology.

He said ongoing issues with property crime in Abbotsford have led the APD to consider innovative ways of tackling the problem.

Rich said the city recorded a 40 per cent drop in property crime in 2012. That flatlined in 2013, increased in 2014, and has been going up at an “alarming rate” this year.

“We have more prolific offenders running around Abbotsford this year than we ever have before. We have lost a tremendous amount of ground in this area,” Rich said.

He said the hike can be partly attributed to more of these offenders moving from other areas of the Lower Mainland to the Fraser Valley.

Rich said the StarChase technology is just one of many strategies the APD will be using in its fight against property crime.

“We are going to figure this out. We are going to keep doing things until we succeed I’m sorry that it’s happening. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. Something’s changed; we’re trying to figure that out, and we’re going after it,” he said.

(Below: The StarChase technology uses these GPS “darts” to track a suspect vehicle.)

 

 

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