Feds consider equipping cops with engine shutdown devices

| 3/3/2008

Who hasn’t been sucked into a televised 20-minute car chase in all its flashing red and blue light glory? News helicopters paint a tapestry of near-misses and the inevitable face-down handcuffing in the road.

In the near future, such chases will last only as long as it takes a law enforcement officer’s cruiser to get near the suspect’ 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 Wednesday, Feb. 27 in Arlington, VA.

One OOIDA official participated in the panel discussion that also included several 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 told Land Line.

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

While 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. System developers haven’t found a way to ensure that when officers aim the microwave shot at one vehicle, engines of other nearby vehicles won’t be shut down as well.

“If they wanted to target a single vehicle right now, they could certainly put them 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 vehicle engines remotely could possibly create safety hazards, Rajkovacz said.

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.

A November 2007 article by Technology Review stated that because electronic control modules weren’t standard in cars until 1972, the devices wouldn’t work on vehicles made before then.

Police have used pepper spray, taser guns and other “less-than-lethal” devices to disable suspects for years, though not without controversy. In 2007, Amnesty International attributed 245 deaths to taser guns.

Truck shut-down technology is already being used by some international companies and by the Singapore’s Civil Defense Force.

Martin Euler, CEO of Astrata, developed the Astrata GLP – a cigarette-pack sized black box that can be wired into a truck’s system to shut off the engine and to lock a truck’s doors remotely from a command center.

The device relies on GPS and can even be programmed to prevent drivers from driving into certain areas on the map.

For a feature article on computer-driven truck technology, see the upcoming March/April edition of Land Line Magazine.

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.

The radiation microwave technology isn’t ready for primetime yet, Rajkovacz said.

“They’ve got some more engineering work to do,” he said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer