A Lynnwood police officer stands next to a police car. The Police Department purchased new GPS-based pursuit technology which mount on the front of patrol cars. (Andy Bronson / The Herald file)

A Lynnwood police officer stands next to a police car. The Police Department purchased new GPS-based pursuit technology which mount on the front of patrol cars. (Andy Bronson / The Herald file)

Lynnwood police using new GPS tracking dart to pursue fleeing vehicles

The department debuted StarChase in April, which shoots a GPS tracker out of a mounted air canister onto a suspect’s car.

LYNNWOOD — The Lynnwood Police Department purchased a new GPS-based pursuit technology that allows officers to track fleeing cars.

StarChase is mounted on the front of patrol cars, where it launches an “adhesive GPS device” via an air canister that can attach to a fleeing vehicle, according to police.

Police said they are often restricted during pursuits because they’re dangerous for officers, the public and the fleeing driver. StarChase is intended to give them another resource to avoid a risky chase, allowing officers to follow cars without chasing at high speeds.

“StarChase makes it a lot safer for officers and for the public in general,” Lynnwood police spokesperson Maren McKay said.

The program cost Lynnwood police about $66,000, which includes instructor training, the technology itself and its installation, McKay said.

Per vehicle, it is $5,990 for the launching system, another $700 to install it and an annual $1,500 subscription per unit, StarChase Vice President of Sales Matthew Shaffer said. The subscription provides unlimited rounds for the launcher.

“How do you put a price on de-escalating dangerous events and saving lives?” Shaffer said in an email. “In today’s climate of low retention and recruitment rates for police nationwide, a force-multiplier like StarChase is extremely valuable.”

Lynnwood police did not disclose the number of patrol cars outfitted with StarChase for “tactical reasons.”

Once attached to a vehicle, police can use GPS to track the vehicle from a distance, then come up with a more strategic plan to apprehend the suspect.

Lynnwood police received the StarChase technology before state lawmakers approved legislation in April, restoring some police discretion to pursue vehicles, McKay said. It took a while to have it deployed because of training and holidays.

In April, state lawmakers passed a measure allowing law enforcement to initiate a chase if there is a reasonable suspicion a person in a vehicle committed a crime or is committing a crime. The previous law, passed in a series of reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, had a higher threshold of probable cause to pursue.

Since its implementation, Lynnwood police have had a “40% success rate” with StarChase, which includes locating the car involved, making an arrest or finding the tracker, according to the police department.

StarChase has been used by Lynnwood officers “dozens of times,” to “apprehend numerous suspects,” according to the Lynnwood Police Department. Exact numbers were not made immediately available Thursday.

Some of the largest police agencies across the country have subscribed to StarChase’s services, including the New York Police Department.

While StarChase is employed by “several agency customers” in Washington, the only police departments to disclose use of the program are Lynnwood and Redmond, according to the company.

“Most agencies prefer to keep their StarChase program out of the public spotlight,” Shaffer said.

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; jonathan.tall@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @EDHJonTall.

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