APD employs GPS dart system to track suspect vehicles


Yamel Thompson

The Austin Police Department demonstrates the StarChase System, a new GPS vehicle tracking system, for local media Thursday afternoon. APD believes the new system will enhance the safety of the public and officers and lead to less violence.

Amanda Voeller

Austin police officers can now shoot GPS-equipped darts at vehicles while on the chase.

The Austin Police Department debuted a new GPS vehicle tracking system, called StarChase, that allows officers to deploy a device similar to a dart from the front of their cars. The device sticks to the back of the vehicle police are pursuing and helps track the suspect, APD Chief Art Acevedo said.

Acevedo said once the system is deployed and officers back off, the suspect tends to slow down, and there is less of a chance for violence.

As APD pursues suspects who are endangering innocent people, it believes StarChase will enhance the safety of officers and the public, Acevedo said.

APD is the first agency in Texas to use the StarChase system, said Trevor Fischbach, president the company. The system costs $4,900 per car, and replacement rounds cost $250 apiece. A grant from the National Institute of Justice provided the funding for the system, Fischbach said.

A compressed-air launcher mounted on the front of a police car uses a laser to target the suspicious vehicle and deploys the projectile, according to StarChase. The device then begins transmitting real-time GPS information to the police department, Acevedo said.

According to StarChase, “real-time” updates are every three to five seconds. According to the company, the technique, called Assisted GPS, uses signals from cellular carriers to track the device and is more accurate than traditional GPS.

APD is training its officers and forming policies regarding the system, Acevedo said. He said a police department that is not willing to chase violent criminals is telling criminals they have a safe haven.

“Municipal insurers will hopefully step up as well to help fund it,” Fishbach said.

APD hopes to get more funding to use the system in more areas of the city, Acevedo said. The system will be deployed mostly in areas that have the highest number of pursuits.

According to Sergeant Stephen Fleming, the system is installed on a sufficient number of cars employed strategically throughout the city. The department may re-evaluate the program depending on how well the system is working.

In 2012, the APD was involved in 135 pursuits, Acevedo said.

“This tool will be huge for us,” Acevedo said.

Miriam Stewart said her son was killed by a suspect in a high-speed police chase in June 2012.

“Thank you to APD for initiating the StarChase system,” Stewart said.

Fleming said the StarChase system would go live Thursday evening.

Published on February 15, 2013 as "APD to employ GPS tracking for chases".