Police chases in Mississippi’s capital city could soon pose less of a danger, Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade and Deputy Chief Vincent Grizzell said on Oct. 20 as they unveiled 25 new handheld StarChase GPS-launching devices.
“We know that it’s been a huge issue with police chases within the City of Jackson from JPD officers and our neighboring law enforcement officers,” Wade said at the press conference.
Residents and local activists have criticized law enforcement in and around Hinds County for years over dangerous police chases, some of which have resulted in multi-vehicle accidents, the deaths of residents and hefty payouts to victims injured during pursuits. But many accidents in recent years have happened after officers from surrounding jurisdictions chased suspects into Jackson.
Grizzell acknowledged Jackson’s past troubles with “old-school” police chases. He said the new equipment will make police pursuits safer for the community.
“When an officer engages in a chase and somebody wants to run away from the police, they will be able to track that car throughout the city wherever they go so that we can safely apprehend those suspects,” Grizzell said. “Once it’s on, it’s going to be hard for them to stop and take it off. We’re going to be right there with them.”
Mississippi House Rep. Zakiya Summers, who represents House District 68 in Jackson, has long advocated for safer police chases in the capital city and surrounding areas.
In 2016, after a driver attempting to evade Clinton Police hit and killed Clinton resident Lonnie Blue Jr., Summers and other organizers with the Capitol Street Coalition held a press conference cautioning law enforcement from engaging in chases that may endanger the public.
“There are ways to catch criminals other than the loss of life,” Summers said at the press conference on Mar. 25, 2016. Then-Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance denied that his officers had any knowledge of the chase before it happened, contrary to statements from Clinton’s then-Interim Police Chief Michael Gill.
“When police participate in pursuits … they are unpredictable and they are dangerous,” Vance said in 2016. “We’ve asked that outside agencies not conduct those type (of) chases within the City of Jackson when seeking misdemeanors and some property criminals.”
“We value life over property,” he continued. “This is a safety issue.”
Today, Summers said she is hopeful in the direction that Wade is guiding the Jackson Police Department.
“Chief Wade’s leadership has brought in more momentum and support for Jackson Police, and he’s establishing relationships with outside agencies and even Capitol Police,” Summers told the Mississippi Free Press on Oct. 24.
While she believes new technology is beneficial, Summers said just having the new tech is not enough and that the public should have a clear understanding of how equipment will be used.
“I think what we’re seeing now is more efforts by police to use technology,” the representative said. “To some degree, I think it can be helpful. But just like with body cameras and street cameras, just having it is not sufficient.”
“Technology can only be as effective as the policy attached to it,” she added. “We still need to have policies that will determine how the technology will be used, who will have access to it, how the officers will be trained to use it. … The public needs to be aware of how the technology will be used.”
Specialized units will be employing StarChase devices, Grizell said. The chief expects officers to begin training to use the devices from StarChase instructors over the next month.
The City’s purchase will not help equip outlying departments who often chase suspects into Jackson with StarChase devices, but Grizzell said he hopes other agencies in the area will be inspired to enact the new technology to make police pursuits safer and that JPD will continue looking at updating their policies and equipment going forward.
Summers echoed those sentiments.
“The surrounding law enforcement could use this technology,” she said. “I think if the technology proves to be effective, maybe Jackson Police could be a model.”