Woodbury Police implementing GPS trackers to prevent high-speed chases

Woodbury Police using GPS trackers to cut down on high-speed chases

Woodbury Police using GPS trackers to cut down on high-speed chases

Woodbury Police Department will soon start using a sticky GPS launcher known as ‘StarChase’ as an alternative to pursuing stolen vehicles.

The department will begin using the devices Aug. 1, as new statewide legislation goes into effect that expands the use of these types of GPS trackers for law enforcement agencies.

The launchers are now installed on the front of multiple squad cars at Woodbury Police Department.

They use pressurized air to shoot out a ‘tag,’ which is a six-inch long cylinder that contains a GPS tracker.

The front of the cylinder contains a sticky resin that will attach to a vehicle with magnetic backup.

Officers can then use the tag to track the vehicle on a map instead of engaging in a chase.

“High-speed pursuits are probably one of the most dangerous things police officers do,” said Sgt. Chris Donahoe at Woodbury Police Department. “There’s great risk to the community, to the suspects and to the officers when crashes happen. This technology allows us to take a different approach.”

There were more than 3,520 police pursuits in Minnesota in 2021, according to the most recent data published by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, with at least 48 people hurt.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has covered some of the devastating impacts of police chases, including innocent bystanders being hurt or killed.

In a 2018 report, 5 INVESTIGATES found law enforcement officers throughout Minnesota had overwhelmingly engaged in high-speed, high-risk chases for low-level offenses. Those findings sparked criticism from a police training expert and the top prosecutor in Hennepin County, who said law enforcement jeopardizes public safety when it decides to engage in high-speed chases of drivers with low-level offenses.

In a follow-up story in 2019, 5 INVESTIGATES analyzed pursuit policies at agencies across Minnesota and found nearly 200 agencies leave those high-risk decisions up to officer discretion.

Minneapolis native Jonathan Farris lost his son as a result of a police pursuit in Boston.

Farris said his son was riding home in a taxi when a fleeing SUV hit their vehicle.

“The SUV was doing about 75 miles per hour when it hit the taxi and killed my son instantly,” Farris said. “It was real and it was awful and it never goes away. It just didn’t need to happen.”

Farris now runs a national non-profit based in Wisconsin called Pursuit for Change, which advocates for reducing unnecessary police chases.

He pushes for changes to police pursuit policy, increased officer training and the use of technology tools, such as StarChase.

“What are the things we can do not only to help innocent victims but to help law enforcement?” Farris said. “When we make these changes, the number of chases and the number of deaths and injuries will be reduced.”

Farris said he is encouraged to see more departments in Minnesota adopt the use of StarChase, thanks to the changing state guidelines.

Previously, police agencies in Minnesota had to get the car owner’s consent to deploy a GPS tracker, but under the updated law, they can use the devices as long as a vehicle is reported stolen.           

The president of StarChase told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS seven police agencies in Minnesota will now be using it, noting the use of the devices has expanded to 40 states since the technology first became available in 2011.

The company said the tags have been successfully deployed at speeds up to 137 miles per hour and will hit the target almost 90% of the time.

Woodbury Police Department said it cost around $7,000 per vehicle to install the StarChase devices.

They hope it can be a win-win for the department and the community.

“It’s very exciting for us to be able to use this technology, to be able to serve our community better and safer,” Donahoe said. “It allows us to take a more measured approach and reduce risk.”

You can learn more about StarChase here.