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Denver police using GPS technology to avoid high-speed chases

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DENVER -- Twice this week, the Denver Police Department has used new technology to capture suspects in stolen cars without ever engaging in a high-speed chase.

On Monday, the department began using GPS technology created by the company Star Chase to follow suspects without them knowing they were being followed.

"We recognize the inherent danger of police  chases," said Ron Thomas, the Division Chief of Patrol for DPD. At a Wednesday morning press conference, Thomas said the department has started equipping some patrol cars with the Star Chase system. Star Chase shoots a sticky adhesive tag from the front of a police car and launches it onto a suspect's car, almost like a blow dart.

Then, police use GPS technology connected to the adhesive tag to track a suspect's vehicle until it stops.

"We've already had two successful deployments where we've recovered stolen vehicles and also captured those suspects very safely," said Thomas, who added it's much safer for police to contact suspects on foot than in a vehicle.

It's technology the family of Steven Nguyen wishes Denver had last year. Nguyen was shot and killed by Denver police after a high-speed chase. At the time, officers thought they were pursuing an escaped inmate named Mauricio Venzor-Gonzalez, who had fled Denver Health Medical Center during a prisoner transport.

Only after the crash and fatal shooting did DPD discover Venzor-Gonzalez wasn't even in the car police had under surveillance and began chasing when Nguyen refused to pull over.  The Denver District Attorney found no criminal wrongdoing by the officers involved, but the Department of  Public Safety is doing an internal investigation to determine if any department violations occurred.

Nguyen's parents are considering legal action against DPD. In a statement, their attorney Spencer Bryan told FOX31, "Adopting Star Chase does little for Steven's son or his family, but the City and Chief Pazen should be commended for looking at ways to further reduce the loss of life from encounters with police. We look forward to working with the City to implement these changes in a safe and meaningful way."

DPD has invested $100,000 into the pilot program but won't say how many patrol cars currently have the Star Chase feature. But if the program continues to see success, Thomas said police will likely ask for more funding in next year's budget to add Star Chase to more cars in its fleet.

"It will pay dividends in the number of crashes it will prevent and injuries to officers and citizens," said Thomas.

Star Chase technology is already being used by nearby police departments in Aurora, Arvada and Broomfield. The Adams County Sheriff's Office also employs the devices.

Each squad car costs about $5,000 to equip and each dart costs $500.

Aurora police have the devices on two vehicles. In 2018, they deployed it 68 times, resulting in 55 arrests. They've deployed the system 28 times since the beginning of 2019, resulting in 14 vehicles being recovered and 13 arrests.

"We saw great success last year," said Crystal McCoy with Aurora police. "It's 55 pursuits where everybody was safer, no doubt."

Both Aurora and DPD say they plan on outfitting additional cars with the technology if it continues to prove to be successful.

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