It’s illegal for police to attach a GPS unit to your car without a warrant, as the U.S. Supreme Court settled in 2012. But that only applies to investigations – if the cops are in hot pursuit of a bank robber or other escaping criminal that threatens public safety, a GPS tracker is fair game. But exactly how can cops GPS track a vehicle that’s already in motion?
The answer to that question comes from StarChase, a new police technology being utilized by a small-but-growing number of law enforcement agencies. It allows cops to fire 4.5-inch glue-covered GPS bullet-like projectiles from an airgun mounted in the grille of their police cruisers. If the GPS tracker makes contact with the escaping crook’s car, it’ll stick no matter how fast the vehicle is going. That way, police dispatchers will have a constant read on the car's location and heading.
Aside from simply apprehending criminals, it’s believed this new technology could help save lives. If cops successfully fire a GPS unit at a speeding criminal, they can pull back from a high-stakes chase. Chases can be incredibly dangerous to all involved, included innocent bystanders and other law-abiding drivers. Once the GPS bullet connects, the chase itself is obsolete.
Now, predictably, a GPS-loaded gun isn’t cheap. Police departments need to pay about $5,000 per vehicle for the technology, and individual GPS bullets cost as much as $250 each. That may sound expensive, but remember: The alternative is often thousands of dollars in property damage, and incalculable human cost in injury and lost life. According to StarChase, their GPS bullet system has an apprehension rate of 80% without any report of injury or property damage.
If you’d like to learn more about the StarChase system, Popular Mechanics has just published a great writeup of it. There’s also plenty more information – and a video demonstration – available at the company’s website.