GPS device could help law enforcement track suspects without a vehicle chase

Police pursuits can be dangerous, but there's a tool that could help catch a crook without a chase.

It's called StarChase, and it enables officers to track a suspect without pursuing them at high speeds. Some agencies around the country are already using it.

News 13 checked to see if local law enforcement thought it was a good idea.

Hendersonville Police Detective Brandon McGaha estimates the department engages in one or two chases a month. He's been talking about chases with News 13 for years.

"Luckily, it was later at night and traffic was light," McGaha said during a 2009 interview. The chase he was referring to ended in a crash after the suspect went through people's yards.

In 2005, a car sped through downtown Hendersonville and eventually crashed. In that case, the driver and a passenger died.

Twelve years later, StarChase markets itself as a way to make chases safer. Two-hundred and fifty miles away, Byron, Georgia's police department has one in almost every car.

"The only way to take the danger out of a car chase is to take the speed out of a car chase. Take the chase away," Wesley Cannon, Byron's Police Chief, said.

StarChase allows police to drop the pursuit, track the suspect and try to arrest them after they've stopped. The system includes an air cannon fixed to the front of a police car. An officer uses laser guided targeting to lock onto a suspect's car, then fires a GPS tracking device, which sticks to the suspect's car.

Byron's police chief believes the device has reduced crime.

"We've been hearing it on the street, 'Man, they got that GPS gun. You better watch out.' I want our criminals to know what we have in our arsenal to catch them. So, if somebody comes to Byron to commit a crime, and we get behind you, we catch you," Cannon said.

McGaha is intrigued with the technology.

"This gives us another tool that we can back off to a safe distance. It keeps the public safer, and we can just sit back and track the car where it goes," McGhaha said.

McGaha said police are selective when they give pursuit. The decision to engage depends on the crime, time of day, and the public safety risk. Police are more likely to chase at night when there is less traffic.

"When we got to First Avenue, the suspect lost control and hit a telephone poll," McGaha recalled the last chase he was involved in. "In that situation, technology like this (StarChase) would've been pretty handy."

StarChase costs $5,000 per vehicle. A spokesperson for the company said they offer unlimited trackers for the first year. Several law enforcement agencies News 13 spoke with expressed concerns about the cost. One sheriff's office said a dash camera costs about the same, and they would rather spend money on that because they use it every day.

Hendersonville police are interested in learning more, but McGaha said he couldn't comment on the department's interest in purchasing the project.

"We would rather have no chases. We'd rather have everybody comply with law enforcement," he said.

McGaha also said he wanted to learn more about whether a warrant is needed to deploy the tracker.

A spokesperson for Asheville police said the department is not looking into or interested in StarChase.

RELATED | Asheville Police Dept. reviewing car chase policy

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