BOSTON — There's a new high tech device that could help cut back on dangerous police pursuits. It’s called Starchase and one local police department is the first in New England to equip their vehicles with it.
“Nov. 2 will be the 10th birthday of Paul's we missed because he's dead. And it really doesn't change much. You learn to manage it,” Jonathan Farris says.
The pain of losing his son Paul is still as raw as it was the night he died in May 2007 when Paul was 23 years old. That night, Massachusetts State Police were chasing a suspect through Somerville after he made an illegal U-turn.
"They were in a taxi and they were T-boned by the SUV that was running away from the police officer. Paul was actually ripped from the taxi, died there on site," said Farris, who spoke with us by Skype from his Wisconsin home.
“I hear the chase and I get a pit in my stomach” said Methuen Police Chief Joe Solomon. He told FOX25 that some weeks his officers respond to as many as five chases each day.
Here in Massachusetts each police department has its own chase policy. In Methuen, officers can only pursue for a serious offense like a robbery or murder.
“God forbid there was a death and particularly with wrong way drivers, it just leads to too much potential injury” said Solomon.
Solomon is now looking to new GPS tracking technology called StarChase as an alternative to high speed chases. The Methuen Police Department is the first agency in New England to use it.
“If someone starts to take off we activate it at a certain point it arms it. It has a laser control on it. You aim you fire and it shoots a dart out. It attaches to the vehicle wherever you shot it. “ said Solomon.
Starchase is mounted in the grill of the police cruiser. After the dart attaches to the suspects’ vehicle, the officer can back off and track the suspect. Solomon tells us when police back off, the suspect usually will stop driving erratically.
He says any police agency can then log into their computer and track the vehicle, allowing them to coordinate with other agencies, and create perimeters miles ahead minimizing the need for an actual chase.
“This is just one more tool in our toolbox that hopefully in the right situation and the right time we deploy it, it could save someone's life.” Solomon said
According to Starchase, the technology has resulted in an 80 percent apprehension rate, that's compared to a 70 percent national average. The company also says the technology has resulted in no injuries or death.
Methuen Police gave FOX25 a demonstration on a blocked off road. Three times the GPS training dart stuck to the chase vehicle. Only once did the device fail to stick. Methuen police said that could be because of weather, proximity, and officer training.
It's a situation other police departments have encountered. Dash cam video showed a police officer in Duluth, GA trying and failing twice to attach a GPS tracker to a suspect's car back in 2012.
The officer continued to pursue the suspect driving at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. The suspect switched lanes, crashed into another car, seriously injuring that driver, and killing himself.
Which is why Farris believes an officer's judgment still needs to be the first line of defense.
“Part of the whole advocacy idea- I want to change policies. I'd like to see stricter policies in play.” He said
Farris says this technology is a step in the right direction, but until every police pursuit policy is improved, he's promised to keep fighting.
“I'm hoping someday I hear Paul's voice in my head saying: You done good, dad. And you can take a rest now. I know he'd be proud.” Farris said.
This technology raises questions about the 4th amendment and privacy.
According to the ACLU, it supports this technology so long as the device is used when there is probable cause, and removed once the suspect is caught.
Methuen Police Officers are now going through training on how to use the StarChase technology. Chief Solomon plans on debuting the system to other police departments on Friday for "New England Public Safety Day."
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