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GPS cannon could end the days of high-speed chases

Police investigate a crash near the Lake City Way exit on southbound I-5 following high speed chase, in February 2011. New technology could help Washington State Patrol Troopers end the days of high speed chases, which often end in fatal or injury crashes. (KIRO Radio/Chris Sullivan)

High-speed police chases often end in crashes. Sometimes, innocent bystanders are caught up in the carnage.

Twice in May, two police pursuits in Snohomish County ended in deadly crashes.

Now, a new technology being deployed across the nation could make the high-speed pursuit a thing of the past.

It’s a GPS cannon that can simply tag a fleeing car with a tracker so that pursuing officers can hang back and wait for the criminal to stop, and then make the arrest.

There would be no more need to push 100 mph through traffic to stay on a suspect’s tail. No innocent bystanders would be rammed as driver’s fled.

Police in Iowa, Texas, Georgia, and Arizona have already installed these GPS-firing cannons on the fronts of their patrol cars that send a sticky GPS device at a fleeing car and then track that car remotely.

“It attaches to the pushbars of the patrol car and it fires a shotgun-styled round that has sticky foam around a GPS device that (attaches) to the rear of the car,” explains Sergeant Jason Hicks with the Washington State Patrol.

Hicks says it’s an intriguing-enough technology that the agency sent a captain to Kentucky a few weeks ago to watch a live demonstration.

“It’s technology, it’s still relatively new technology. We’re paying attention to it, seeing how it works out for these other agencies that are trying it. We’ll make our determination from there,” says Hicks.

Hicks says anything that would make the roads safer is worth a look.

“Our troopers are trained that pursuits are deadly and they’re dangerous. Troopers are given the authority to determine a pursuit at any time so any option that we can find to help us void the high-speed pursuit would be something that we want to pay attention to.”

Each air-powered cannon costs about $5,000 to install. Each GPS round costs about $500, so it would be a huge investment for the State Patrol.

Hicks says they’d likely have to outfit most cruisers with them to make this system viable but, “Any technology that we can use to make our troopers safer, to make our citizens safer, means that we’re not going to ignore it. But on the other side of that, we’re not going to rush into spend millions of dollars on that to find out that it’s not effective.”

The Washington State Patrol was involved in 200 pursuits through the first eight months of this year. Several of them ended in injury collisions.

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