The Culver City Police Department is getting one more tool to help deal with suspects in the city.

The Culver City Council approved a three-year contract on Tuesday night costing over $140,000 with technology company StarChase to begin the use of their pursuit tracking technology. StarChase hopes to improve the safety of police operations by allowing officers to attach a GPS-tracking device to suspect’s vehicles during high-speed chases. An air pressure system is used to shoot a dart affixed with the tracker from the front of an equipped vehicle to the target which will help reduce the number of pursuits and make the ones that happen safer.

This discussion has been one that has been going on for some time now, with a motion to approve the contract most recently having failed to pass last month by a 2-2 vote with councilmember Göran Eriksson absent. It adds to the support of police operations the council has shown over the past year, with an automated license plate reader program being approved last May and a special fund primarily for police equipment being created the next month.

Concerns have been expressed in the past that Culver City Police would be able to attach a GPS to any vehicle suspected of a felony or misdemeanor without needing a warrant, and others argue that the money could be better used elsewhere. Several requirements in CCPD’s new StarChase policy dictate when it can be deployed, but the open-ended nature of the policy did not quell all of the public’s concerns.

The current draft policy reads that the device can be deployed before stopping any felony suspect or to track suspects of certain misdemeanors — such as sexual battery, assault, criminal threats, domestic violence, and weapons possession — with the approval of a watch commander or supervisor. The tracker itself will only be turned on if the suspect vehicle attempts to flee or does not comply with CCPD.

However, discussions have led to changes that will more specifically outline the use of the tracking system in misdemeanor cases. The change will ensure that it is clear that StarChase should only be used for misdemeanors that “Pose a risk to public safety,” according to Police Chief Jason Sims. These trackers are also not meant for long-term tracking with a battery life of around eight hours, a point which will also be made clear in a final document.

Officers using the StarChase device must also be trained by a certified instructor to do so. StarChase holds a mandatory training program of about six to eight hours for designated officers to gain StarChase trainer certification according to StarChase representative Kerry Goldberg. These officers return to the department and train other sworn officers in the use of the technology, which will place a cost burden on the city that is currently unknown by the department.

Mayor Yasmine-Imani McMorrin was not explicitly against the use of the tool but had concerns regarding questions of liability around the system. She also pointed out that many of the crimes the system would be used for would be vehicles that pass through Culver City after a crime was committed somewhere else.

Councilmember Freddie Puza followed up on this point with more context on the exact volume of chases in the city. There was a 40 percent increase in car chases in the past year with 55 and a total of 110 high-speed chases making their way through Culver City over the past five years.

He also wanted to know the overall success rate of the program, including the rate at which the dart hits and embeds itself into the target vehicle. StarChase has been in business for 10 years and is in use in around 250 law enforcement agencies in part thanks to a high apprehension success rate of 86 percent, according to Sims.

But both McMorrin’s and Puza’s main point was concern about the continued funding of responsive safety like police tools as opposed to proactive methods that help reduce the committing of crimes such as improving housing conditions and living wages and other aspects of providing an equitable life in a community.

“Of course, the police are one important tool in our toolbox,” McMorrin said, “But I fundamentally believe that they should not be invested in at the exclusion of everything else.”

The contract passed, 3-2, with McMorrin and Puza opposed.

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