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GPS Technology Helping Texas Police Capture Criminals

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Mireya Villarreal
A native Texan, Mireya was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley....
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NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Tracking criminals without having to chase them… it’s a concept that may seem farfetched, but at least one Texas police department is using new specialized GPS technology to do just that. Now, if suspects try to run from Austin police officers, they won’t get very far.

Getting the bad guy is often the driving factor behind police chases. But in some cases, innocent drivers caught in the crossfire are seriously hurt.

“They were worried about somebody else, but they didn’t care about my daughter,” Maria Ipina told us.

The CBS 11 I-Team has been following the Ipina case for months. On December 7, 2012 Dallas police were chasing Angel Palomo. He was accused of robbing a couple at gun point. Angeles Ipina, 16, was killed that night when Palomo ran a red light.

“But to me it sounds like they were worried about them killing somebody with the gun, but they didn’t worry about them killing somebody while they were pursuing them,” Ipina added.

Dallas police are still conducting an internal investigation into whether officers followed the rules that night. But Assistant Chief of Patrol Thomas Lawrence also told the I-Team he’d be looking into whether things can be done differently during chases.

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

But just 200 miles south of Dallas, one police department has already found a different way to do things. Back in March the Austin police Department rolled out new technology that allows them to track a suspect with a GPS tracking device.

“The system uses a round, which is projected by air. It travels several car lengths in front of you. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going,” Officer Tom Howard explained.

The equipment was created by StarChase, a company out of Virginia. The GPS cartridges are loaded in a holding area attached to the grill of a police unit, where they wait to be deployed. The technology works like those t-shirt launchers used at basketball games.

Once the round hits a suspect’s vehicle, Officer Howard says most of the officers involved in the chase will slow down and pull back a little bit; seeing an immediate reaction and impact from the suspect.

In 2012, before working with StarChase, officers with Austin PD were involved in 135 chases 22 of them resulted in a crash. At least one of the incidents resulted in the death of an innocent bystander, 32-year old James Williford. In comparison, Dallas PD had 53 pursuits in 2012 and one death, the Ipina case. Since being installed, Austin officers have successfully deployed the cartridges several times.

“I feel it’s a good idea to do everything we possibly can to protect the lives of our suspects, of ourselves, and of the innocent citizens who are just going about their day,” Officer Howard added.

The cost to equip one car with this system is about $5,000. Austin was able to install the StarChase technology in more than twelve patrol units with grant money. Officer Howard is hoping to increase those numbers in the next few years.

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