Law Enforcement Employing GPS Darts to Track Evading Vehicles and Minimize Risky Pursuits

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By Car Brand Experts

In various spy movies, the main character often secretly attaches a tracking device to a suspect using a small dart from a distance. This method allows them to monitor the movements of the culprits discreetly. This concept has now transcended fiction and entered reality, as police forces have started tagging fleeing cars with GPS trackers, eliminating the necessity for high-speed chases.

The Old Westbury Police Department in New York utilizes vehicle-mounted launchers that shoot foam projectiles containing a heat-activated sticky adhesive at escaping vehicles during pursuits. These projectiles are equipped with wireless GPS tracking systems, allowing law enforcement to monitor the precise location of the vehicle. The launchers and darts are manufactured by StarChase, who also provide handheld units on lease to agencies like the NYPD. The objective is to eliminate the risks associated with car chases, which endanger public safety.

“The pursuit of suspects is strongly discouraged,” stated Old Westbury Police Chief Stuart Cameron as reported by Gothamist. “The data speaks for itself … suspects, officers, and civilians frequently sustain injuries or fatalities during these pursuits.”

These trackers are designed to prevent situations requiring high-speed chases.
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These trackers are designed to prevent the need for high-speed chases. AP News via YouTube

The launchers are affixed to the front of patrol vehicles, enabling officers to pursue a fleeing car only long enough to attach a sticky dart before disengaging and tracking its movements. The darts are propelled by compressed air, traveling at approximately 30 mph, and adhere without causing damage.

The use of these tracking darts extends beyond Long Island, with police departments in states such as Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington implementing them. However, the application of these trackers on civilian vehicles raises concerns regarding their legality, as some argue that they may infringe upon Fourth Amendment rights. In the 2012 Supreme Court case, U.S. vs Jones, the court unanimously ruled that warrantless GPS tracking of a vehicle constitutes an unlawful search, violating the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has indicated that GPS tracking darts are acceptable as long as they are deployed in a manner that aligns with public expectations, as stated by Jay Stanley, ACLU senior policy analyst. In essence, if a dart is fired during a pursuit and removed after the vehicle is intercepted, its use is likely lawful.

While the practice of GPS tracking darts isn’t entirely novel, their adoption by law enforcement agencies is becoming increasingly common. While it may seem somewhat dystopian for police to track vehicles in this manner, when employed appropriately, these devices have the potential to prevent hazardous incidents for all parties involved.

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