Suburban police fight car thieves with new GPS technology

Suburban police fight car thieves with new GPS technology

Maplewood police know they can only initiate a high-speed chase when the driver is suspected of a violent crime and lives are at stake.

A lot of bad guys know that too.

“In my 20 years in law enforcement, I’ve never seen so many suspects running away from police,” said Maplewood Police Chief Brian Bierdeman.

Maplewood is now among the first law enforcement agencies in Minnesota to invest in GPS tracking technology called StarChase, which allows officers to mark and track stolen vehicles and apprehend suspects without dangerous high-speed pursuit. .

“We’re looking at alternatives to lawsuits other than saying, ‘We can’t prosecute.’ We want to hold people accountable,” Bierdeman said, acknowledging public frustration over the rise in vehicle thefts.

Four state departments — Maplewood, Roseville, and Brooklyn Center police and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office — are using state Commerce Department grants to install vehicle-mounted GPS launchers on some of their cars. squad.

“That’s not an exaggeration: multiple vehicles run away from our officers every week,” Roseville Deputy Chief Joe Adams said. “In Roseville, we continue to leverage technology to increase public safety.”

How it works

A cylinder with a GPS tracker the size of an aspirin bottle is launched using air pressure from the front of the police car and sticks to the rear of the fleeing vehicle at the using magnets and a sticky adhesive. Officers and dispatchers can then track the vehicle and make an arrest when it is safe.

As of Tuesday morning, no department had deployed them yet, but Ramsey County Deputy Sheriff Mike Martin said they were ready. The sheriff’s office, which provides policing in seven suburbs, has a more nuanced hunting policy, but Martin said public safety is always a top priority.

“We believe it is necessary to weed out violent offenders and car thieves,” he said. “We want to do it in a safe way and in a way that avoids high-speed chases.”

The dangers of car chases

Police chases in the Twin Cities ended in tragedy.

In September 2021, two teenage passengers, 14-year-old Marcoz Paramo and 15-year-old Alyjah Thomas, were killed after a teenager driving a stolen car refused to pull over for Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputies and s crashed in Saint-Paul. The teenage driver was later charged. with criminal homicide while driving a vehicle.

Last summer, Leneal Frazier, 40, was killed when a Minneapolis police cruiser hit his vehicle during a high-speed chase. The agent has been charged in this case.

The four departments using StarChase are working to ensure the new technology complies with state law.

Make changes

Minnesota state law requires the vehicle owner to provide consent to track their vehicle. Maplewood Police and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office are asking owners for permission to track their stolen vehicles. Roseville and Brooklyn Center are still drafting their policies.

The sheriff’s office is also seeking to change state law that would allow law enforcement to track stolen vehicles for 24 hours without owners’ consent.

State Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, carries the bill.

The four departments buy the technology from StarChase, a Virginia-based company that partners with law enforcement in 28 states. StarChase currently works with a handful of Minnesota law enforcement agencies.

“Why wouldn’t we want to use technology to slow things down, take a step back, get the adrenaline pumping and make a safe arrest that doesn’t compromise public safety or risk the life of the returning mother? work ?” said StarChase owner and founder Trevor Fischbach.

Local police and Fischbach said it was not just about recovering stolen property faster. Stolen vehicles are often used in other crimes, including carjackings and robberies.

“Car thefts and carjackings result in millions of dollars in losses and traumatic incidents for victims. They also result in higher insurance premiums,” Martin said in an email.

Collateral damage and potential injuries from police chases are also causing financial hardship for communities across the country, Fischbach said.

Is it correct?

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said the technology is fine as long as it is used when an officer has the equivalent of probable cause. of wrongdoing and does not have time to obtain a guarantee.

The tracker should also be removed once authorities find the stolen vehicle.

Stanley, who first gave his opinion on StarChase in 2014, said that hasn’t changed in the past eight years.

“I haven’t heard of any civil liberty issues with this technology,” Stanley said.

Maplewood is spending about $35,000 of its $204,000 grant for StarChase, according to city council documents. The grant also helps pay for a dedicated auto theft investigator.

Roseville spends about $38,000 on StarChase.

Maplewood Mayor Marylee Abrams said she supported the technology and promised it would be regulated and monitored.

“With the marked increase in carjackings and stolen vehicles, law enforcement must find new tools to deter crime while adding safety features to protect the public,” Abrams said.