Feb. 3, 2005 -- A paintball-like technology could end car chases in Los Angeles, and maybe across the country, if a system being tested in Southern California delivers what the company that makes it promises.
The Los Angeles Police Department is testing a new secret weapon to halt high-speed pursuits: smart darts.
The LAPD will use air-propelled miniature baseball size "tags" equipped with a global positioning system. The officers fire the darts, which stick to a fleeing motorist's car, and within minutes can find and track the suspect's location.
"There is a social need for better managing of high-speed pursuits," said Mandy McCall, chief operating officer at StarChase, the inventor of the vehicle tagging and tracking Pursuit Management System.
Car chases, a staple on cable news channels, often end in deadly outcomes. Last year alone, there were more than 600 pursuits in Los Angeles and more than 100,000 nationwide.
McCall said that because of a business partner's death in a long police pursuit, one of the co-founders of StarChase dedicated himself to finding a way to put an end to the chases that endanger the police and bystanders alike.
Super Glue-like Dart
"We believe this technology and the trials associated with it will potentially give police officers yet another tool to minimize the damaging risks associated with high-speed pursuits," Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton said in a prepared statement.
The LAPD will try out the technology for four to six months, which allows StarChase to fine-tune its product before it starts selling the "smart darts" to other law enforcement authorities, McCall said.
The vehicle-mounted compressed air launchers have been tested with the golf-ball size GPS receivers that come laden with a "highly efficient" gluey compound guaranteed to stick, McCall said. The tag adheres to the suspect vehicle and then transmits location coordinates to a central location, where it is superimposed over a computer map display.
Regardless of whether fleeing drivers realize they have been tagged, it's unlikely that individuals could unglue the dart.
StarChase has not released prices for its tracking system, but McCall said that the company would respect municipalities' tight budgets.