Biologists have been tagging wildlife with GPS transmitters and tracking them for years. Now the St. Petersburg Police Department will experiment with a similar approach to suspect vehicles.
A federal grant is funding the experiment, which uses a product called StarChase. A launcher mounted on the front of cruiser uses compressed air to launch a GPS transmitter, which is contained inside a case with a very sticky substance on one end.
"It's no longer really a chase when this gets affixed to the vehicle," Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan explained at a demonstration in a Tropicana Field parking lot. "You don't need to chase the car anymore; you know exactly where it is. You can wait five minutes, you can wait 10 minutes, you can surround it in adjacent blocks."
Police pursuits have been controversial in St. Petersburg for years. Former mayor Rick Baker abolished them, which encouraged many juvenile offenders in stolen cars to ignore police stops.
Mayor Bill Foster relaxed the policy, with some serious consequences. So far this year, one bystander received minor injuries in a crash preceded by a police chase. One suspect was killed in a crash and two suspects were injured.
In 2012, eight bystanders were injured, 10 suspects were injured, and another suspect died.
"Pursuits are inevitable in police work, what we're trying to do is make them safer and to minimize the danger associated with them," Bevan said. "We're going to try it for about six months, or until we have decided that either we can utilize this equipment more broadly within our department or if we decide that it just doesn't fit our needs."
Bevan would not disclose how many cruisers will be equipped with the launchers, but said about 20 officers will be trained in their use.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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