Taking the ‘chase’ out of police chases - The Buffalo News

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Taking the ‘chase’ out of police chases

The high-speed police chase could become a thing of the past in Buffalo if city officials like what they learn about a dartlike GPS tracking device that police officers can shoot onto fleeing vehicles.

“It’s James Bond-ish if you ask me,” said Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana.

The Common Council is expected today to adopt Fontana’s resolution asking the Police Department to consider using the technology.

StarChase, a Virginia company, has sold the tagging technology to police departments in Los Angeles, St. Petersburg, Fla., Austin, Texas, and a dozen other cities.

The launching device, affixed to the grille of a police car, holds a dart that contains a GPS tracking device. When the police car gets behind a fleeing vehicle, the officer can deploy the dart powered by compressed air. The dart, with an adhesive pad, sticks on the fleeing vehicle, allowing police to track the car online.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Monday that he wasn’t familiar with the technology but would look into it.

“It wouldn’t be a bad thing if you could tag a car and track it down later,” Derenda said.

The idea is to reduce or even eliminate police chases. The make-believe chases add drama and excitement in Hollywood action movies, but in real life, police chases lead to injuries and even deaths to police officers, suspects and even innocent bystanders.

Fontana found himself in the middle of a police chase last year that started on the West Side and ended on Bailey Avenue. He said it was “reminiscent of the old Smokey and the Bandit movies.”

In July, two Buffalo police officers were injured during a chase that ended in a crash near the Kensington Expressway. As the 39-year-old suspect emerged from the vehicle, police said, he dropped a bag containing crack cocaine, marijuana and half of a blue pill.

In November, seven people were injured following a police chase that ended downtown.

In that incident, a State Police officer tried to pull over a Jeep near Niagara Square at about 4:15 p.m., when the driver sped off, then ran a red light at Delaware Avenue and Edward Street, striking two other vehicles, police said. All seven victims were taken to Erie County Medical Center with injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones and a concussion, authorities said. The crash closed Delaware Avenue for several hours.

And in July 2013, a taxi crashed into an East Side house following a police chase. The suspects robbed a pharmacy on the 2000 block of Clinton Street near the West Seneca border, authorities said, and they fled in a taxi. Buffalo and West Seneca police pursued the suspects until they crashed into the house, where people were home but nobody was injured.

Nationally, police pursuits result in about one fatality every day, according to government figures.

StarChase, formed in 2006, said its technology yields an apprehension rate of greater than 80 percent.

The cost is about $5,000 per unit, and each dart costs $250.

Questions remain about costs and whether the technology would be a good fit for the city, Fontana said.

The city routinely purchases equipment like surveillance cameras, license plate readers and devices that download information from suspects’ cellphones. The department has used grants and even money seized in drug investigations to pay for new equipment.

email: jterreri@buffnews.com

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