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High-Tech HALT to Chases

A Huntington Beach inventor has developed a laser gun that police could use to stop vehicles that are implanted with a special microsensor.


No more television programs interrupted to broadcast the latest Southern California car chase. No more freeways closed as police try to nab fleeing scofflaws, and no more pedestrians killed by speeding felons trying to elude capture. In fact, no more high-speed police pursuits, ever.

At least that's the goal of a new technology developed by a Huntington Beach inventor and demonstrated last week during the California Peace Officers Assn.'s annual conference.

The device is dubbed High Speed Avoidance Using Laser Technology, or HALT. If implanted in cars, the small microsensor would allow police with a remote control laser gun to force motorists to a slow, safe stop from as far as half a mile away.

The device was invented by Charles Gabbard, a retired engineer from Huntington Beach, whose car was stolen during a chase seven years ago. He was not injured, but that pursuit caused the death of two pedestrians. "I thought there's got to be a better way to stop these pursuits," he said.

His invention is now gaining interest from law enforcement officers across the region as they look for ways to handle high-speed chases in the safest possible way.

"It takes all the fun out of chases, but it's a good idea," Gardena Police Officer Mark Wilson joked after watching the show. He added: "Pursuits are the scariest part of your career. The people you're chasing, they've got this thousand-pound machine, and they don't take into consideration red lights or pedestrians or anything.'


There were more than 6,600 police pursuits on California's roads in 1998, 1,750 of which ended in accidents, said Ron Perry, chief lobbyist for Gabbard's company, CHG Safety Technologies.

"If we get this thing implemented, it will mean an end to police pursuits," Perry added.

But first, auto makers have to agree to implant the chips in their cars. And that is a big if.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Daly City) introduced legislation calling for all new cars in California to be implanted with such a chip by 2005. Her bill, SB 2004, is now tied up in the Senate Transportation Committee, facing opposition from car manufacturers but championed by the insurance industry and law enforcement groups, CHG officials said.

The chips are "definitely something we favor. Anything that would reduce accidents," said Holly Staszel, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Network of California, an industry group.

Redondo Beach police officers and representatives from CHG took to the streets last week near the city's pier with a shiny black Mercedes, a police helicopter and several of the laser-shooting guns. As officers from throughout California watched, the black sedan sped again and again around the corner with a police car in close pursuit.

Officers fired a laser gun from a car, from the air and finally from the sidewalk. Each time, the car's taillights began to flicker and the auto slowed to 15 mph before sputtering to a stop. The device cuts off an engine for 20 minutes. Steering and braking are not affected.

"I was very impressed," said J.P. McGinness, a sheriff's deputy from Sacramento, who added that the new device seems safer and more effective than current tactics. "We've trained officers to ram people, and we put down spike strips that pop their tires," he said. "We've bought a lot of tires for nonviolators who accidentally ran over the strips."

Ron Allen, assistant sheriff of El Dorado County, said his rural Northern California jurisdiction does not have many police pursuits, but he praised what he saw last week.

"It's a great idea, once it becomes practical and cost-effective," he said. "The problem is just getting them into the cars."


In most cases, the sensor would be embedded near the license plate, giving officers something to aim at. "If they're bad shots, they shouldn't be police officers," Phil Povey, a CHG official, said.

The laser guns will cost police departments about $1,500 each. To discourage theft, they will be biometrically engineered to operate only after recognizing the handprints of police officers. And in case they are stolen, Povey said, all of the guns will have geographic positioning systems so police departments can trace them.

Implanting the device into a new car would cost about $20, Povey said. Retrofitting cars already on the streets would cost about $100.

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