Wednesday’s Headlines: Star Wars on Patrol Edition

An NYPD officer shows off the StarChase technology, which the city says will reduce police chases. Photos: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office
An NYPD officer shows off the StarChase technology, which the city says will reduce police chases. Photos: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office

Unlike our colleagues in the media (and our friends online), we’re not going start out by trashing the NYPD’s efforts to use technology to make the city safer.

Here's the soon-to-be-beat-up subway robot. Photo: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office
Walking the beat (for real). Here’s the soon-to-be-beaten-up subway robot. Photo: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office

Now, it’s easy to make fun of the robot dog and the new R2D2-inspired subway bot that the mayor unveiled yesterday in Times Square — certainly everyone did, including the Daily News, the Post), Hell Gate and even the Times. But all of those outlets were obsessed with the cyber canine and the automaton officer, and gave way too little coverage to what appears at the outset to be a cost-effective pilot of a technology that could — we emphasize could — reduce dangerous police chases, which have led to so many deaths and injuries of innocent bystanders over the years.

The product is called StarChase — and it features a beer-can-shaped tracker that gets fired by an officer (see picture above) or from a patrol-car-mounted launcher. When fired correctly — we emphasize correctly — the beer-can-like GPS tracker sticks to the back of a car, allowing cops to follow it without engaging in a high-speed chase.

“Why we are doing this?” Chief of Patrol John Chell asked rhetorically. “It allows our officers to stay safe, limit pursuits, and let the GPS do its job.”

He added that the unit was used successfully on Saturday night in The Bronx to help apprehend a stolen car — and the guy who stole it: “They utilized this device. The car pulled over, we made the arrest, we took a stolen car off the street. And just as important, we kept our officers safe, mitigated the pursuit, and kept the community safe.”

The NYPD put out a press release about the product, which lacked some of the basics, so we asked some very — we emphasize very — simple questions:

  1. How many officers will be trained on it?
  2. In how many precincts?
  3. What is the cost of leasing this system for the 90 days?
  4. How many police chases does the NYPD estimate it undertakes in an average year?

The response from the NYPD’s public information office should infuriate anyone who takes public information seriously: It sent us a video link to the 30-minute press conference — at which not a single one of the questions above was answered.

Nonetheless, the Times was able to report that the NYPD’s “subscription” for seven StarChase devices will cost roughly $19,500. Was that so hard?

We’ll try to keep you posted on whether the new system is working or not. But the cost of the program will be well worth it, if even one death like that of Borkot Ullah, Violetta Krzyzak, Ariel Russo, Karen Schmeer, Pablo Pasares, Apolline Mong-Guillemin, Sofia Gomez Aguilon or of this house in Staten Island.

Beyond the StarChase system, sure, have at the NYPD all you want:

In other news:

  • Curbed and the Daily News followed our coverage of the disastrously bloody year it’s already been for city cyclists — and then, sadly enough, another cyclist was killed by a driver, which everyone covered (Streetsblog, NY Post, Astoria Post).
  • Upper East Site continued its umbrage over an Upper East Side private school that has re-applied for the school streets program — a program created by the city to keep kids safe on streets that are notoriously dangerous, as Streetsblog reported in an award-winning investigation. Public streets should be safe for everyone … including private school kids.
  • Speaking of public space that drivers crave, Open Plans Co-Executive Director Sara Lind penned an op-ed for the Daily News about making sure the outdoor dining program survives the Council’s sausage grinder.
  • The Times’s Ana Ley offered a roundup of several ideas for saving the MTA. Of course, Streetsblog readers have heard it all before.
  • Lots of outlets covered the decision by police union boss Pat Lynch to not seek re-election (NYDN, NY Post, NY Times), but none but Streetsblog remind its readers that the car assigned to Lynch has been nabbed 41 times for speeding through school zones and five times for running red lights, according to city records. And why not retire? After all, Lynch engineered the latest handout to his rank and file. (NY Post)
  • Council Member Oswald Feliz got another day of coverage of his plan to hike the fines for using or selling a fake plate, which was spurred by our three-part series. (amNY, Streetsblog)
  • Playing against type, The City gave a megaphone to pro-parking NIMBYs who oppose car share because it takes away “their” parking. Fortunately, John Surico took it down with one tweet:

  • And, finally, Judd Apatow liked the new episode of “The War on Cars” podcast — about Hollywood’s mistreatment of cyclists — so maybe you will, too: