Car Zapper Creating a Buzz Here

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The Jackson Citizen Patriot | Chris Gautz

In the future, high-speed police chases across the country could end with a zap and an arrest, rather than a crash and an injury.

An Ann Arbor-based research and development company, Cybernet Systems, is working on a device that police could use to beam a signal from their patrol car to the one they are chasing, which would disable its computer system and stop the car.

And Jackson may play a large role in its testing and production.

"It's a big deal," Sparton Corp. President and CEO David Hockenbrocht said. "Not only for the community, but for our company."

Hockenbrocht sits on the board of Cybernet. Jackson-based Sparton owns 14 percent of the company, he said.

Hockenbrocht estimates it would be ready for production in about three years. Production would be done at Sparton's facility in Blackman Township, he said.

Depending on interest, which he expects will be high, it could mean up to 100 new jobs in Jackson.

"It would be significant," Hockenbrocht said. "There is a lot of national interest, because the problem is everywhere."

Hockenbrocht said he pushed for the beta testing of the product to be done in Jackson County and met with local authorities recently to discuss it.

Jackson County Sheriff Daniel Heyns said he is interested in helping test the product and is excited by its possibilities.

"Obviously, that's an area that's of great concern to sheriffs and police chiefs across the country," Heyns said.

"It would certainly be a piece of technology we would be interested in."

Heyns said details about how the testing would work and what would be involved is still being determined. If all goes as planned, testing would take place sometime next year.

"If we can help out, we will," he said.

Jackson County averages two high-speed chases a month, Jackson City Manager William Ross said.

The most recent occurred last week when a Somerset Township man led police on a chase that reached speeds up to 100 mph in a stolen minivan. The man eventually crashed into a concrete overpass after he hit stop sticks officers had placed in the road. He had to be hospitalized for his injuries.

Ross said most of the chases in the city are ended by the officer because of safety concerns to residents and other drivers.

He said the city is open to having some of the beta testing done here.

"We expressed a willingness to work on that," Ross said.

Ross said there would not be any financial involvement from the city to have the testing done here.

Chuck Jacobus, chief scientist at Cybernet, said the device has been proven to work in laboratory settings. Now the trick is to make it easy to use in the real world, he said.

"We can definitely kill some cars," Jacobus said. "It's like having an engine failure."

Another hurdle is to gain approval from the Federal Communications Commission, because while the beam can be focused, it could possibly disrupt or disable nearby office computers or cell phones.

The device could be mounted to the roof of a police cruiser or the belly of a police helicopter.

Jacobus said the device could also be used at border crossings.

Funding for the research is coming from the Department of Homeland Security.

"There's a lot of interest in this area," Jacobus said. "The issue is, can you make it practical for users?"

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