News
A screeching halt
Feds ponder equipping cops with microwave engine shutdown devices

By Charlie Morasch
staff writer

 

Who hasn’t been sucked into a televised 20-minute car chase in all its flashing red-and-blue-light glory?     

In the near future, such chases may last only as long as it takes a law enforcement officer’s cruiser to get near the suspect’s vehicle, if the federal government has its way.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security are pondering new technology that would allow officers to slow and stop vehicles’ engines with remote control devices in patrol cars. The devices would send pulses of radiation microwaves to disable engine parts run by microprocessors.

Homeland Security hosted a panel discussion titled “Community Perceptions of Technology Microwave Vehicle Stopping Technology” on Feb. 27 in Arlington, VA.

An OOIDA official participated in the panel discussion, which included other interested parties of varied backgrounds.

Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist, sat on the panel and said the discussion was “fascinating.”

 “It was a really robust conversation with a lot of different people participating,” Rajkovacz said.

Panel participants were asked to sign an agreement saying they would not reveal other participants’ comments or views outside the discussion room.

Although Rajkovacz said he couldn’t disclose everything he learned, he did say experts made it clear that local law enforcement officers won’t have the devices in the immediate future. Developers haven’t found a way to ensure that when the microwave is shot at one vehicle, engines of other nearby vehicles won’t be shut down.

 “If they wanted to target a single vehicle right now, they could certainly put it out of business,” Rajkovacz said. “But they would certainly put other vehicles out as well. At the end of the day, they’ve still got a lot more homework to do.”

OOIDA is concerned that shutting off vehicle engines remotely could create safety hazards.

One California company has reportedly developed technology so law enforcement officers can stop a vehicle up to 50 feet away.

Officials from Eureka Aerospace believe they can increase that range to 600 feet during the next few years.

Homeland Security officials have been concerned about truck terrorism for some time, Rajkovacz said, and have wanted a way to shut down hazmat trucks specifically. LL

   charlie_morasch@landlinemag.com