BRIGHTON, Colo. (KDVR) – Tim Morgan has set up an email alert system for his inbox so he can keep up with news about deadly police chases across the country. This is how he discovered that two innocent people had been killed in Brighton, Colorado, after a suspect, who was on the run from a rookie police officer in 2021, rammed into them.
“I get multiple emails a day with multiple stories in each email,” he said, “and I have over 5,000 that I haven’t read yet.”
Morgan, who is based in South Carolina, said he saw investigation reports into the incident and wondered if a security product he had spent years developing might help.
“There are so many activities across the country that end badly,” he said. “I try to make a difference.”
Digital siren technology
Morgan is the CEO and co-founder of Digital Siren. The technology sends warnings to drivers and pedestrians when they come within two miles of an active police pursuit.
Patrol officers do this by pressing a button on a device installed in their vehicles. Currently, only people who have downloaded the corresponding free app receive the notification. Morgan said he hopes the system evolves so the public doesn’t need an app to receive the warning.
“We have Amber Alerts – it’s a digital alert. We have weather alerts – it’s a digital alert. It’s been very successful, but more people are killed in chases than all weather events combined. It makes sense to have a public alert system for these dangerous events,” he told KDVR.
Another fatal incident
Morgan said he was inspired to create the Digital Siren system after a fatal crash in South Carolina in 2008. Morgan was his department’s chief deputy when a lawsuit led to an accident that killed a man innocent, whose family he knew.
“The parents lost a son. The two small children have lost a dad. A woman lost her husband, and it wasn’t just a one-time event. It’s a life sentence for these people,” he said. “I felt a certain sense of responsibility.”
Morgan said he got to work trying to think of “a better way”.
How many are killed each year?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which collects federal data in the Federal Analysis Reporting System (FARS), 9,311 people died in traffic crashes related to police chases between 1996 and 2020.
Between 2015 and 2020, an average of 432 people died each year in related accidents.
In Colorado, the system tracked 34 deaths linked to police pursuits between 2018 and 2020.
Alabama uses the service
Morgan said at last check, he was told the app had been downloaded 55,000 times. He said 28 law enforcement agencies in three states — with more in the pipeline — have already invested in the product.
“To us, it’s kind of a no-brainer that we can alert the public to a high-speed chase,” said Charlie McNichol, director of emergency communications for Mobile County, Alabama.
McNichol said his department funded 600 units — at a cost of $65,000 — for five area law enforcement agencies last year.
Nearby regional departments felt compelled to install the device after a fatal crash in Thomasville, Alabama killed three innocent people from the same family.
“There’s a great cost attached to it, but not compared to lives,” McNichol said. “If we save one life or two or three lives, it’s certainly worth every dollar.”
Chief Paul Prine, the mobile police chief, said it was difficult to gauge the success of the product as it is used for prevention purposes, but he told KDVR there had been no incident in which an innocent motorist had been injured or killed since their implementation. the system.
His department, meanwhile, regularly evaluates its own prosecution policies and procedures when implementing training.
A professor of criminal justice is skeptical
Dr. Dennis Kenney, a professor of criminal justice at the City University of New York, fears the technology will intrigue drivers rather than encourage them to avoid prosecution. He mentioned the excitement of the police chases in Los Angeles.
“The LAPD found with their news media, [which] aggressively covers lawsuits, that instead of warning people, it became exciting daytime television,” he said. “And so, I can well imagine that they would have a bigger problem with … the app going off, saying there’s a chase, and that would attract me rather than make me avoid it.”
However, Morgan said people are never alerted to the exact location of a chase.
“We are not giving the location of the lawsuit for this specific reason,” he said. “People are just alerted that there’s a chase nearby, but they don’t know where.”
Kenney also said he thinks the siren that already exists on a typical patrol car should be sufficient in those scenarios.
“The siren is supposed to warn them that there are things ahead that they need to deviate from, and there is general agreement on the siren, that you stop. There’s no general agreement on what you’re doing with the app,” he said.
“The last thing we need are distracted drivers paying attention to an app on their phone if they’re near a chase,” he said.
Morgan insisted that technology doesn’t force anyone to be distracted by the app.
“The audience doesn’t have to look at their phone, the alert is a distinct tone to get their attention followed by a voice message,” he said. “We think the result is that people are less distracted with much higher situational awareness, paying attention to their surroundings and looking for a getaway vehicle.”
Brighton Police reaction
While the Brighton Police Department is aware of Morgan’s proposed technology, Deputy Chief Constable Matt Domenico told council members he had reservations about it.
“There are new things about pursuit warning systems – which is really an intriguing idea – that can be streamed to cell phones,” he said during a recent study session of the municipal Council. “The problem with that is that you have to sign up for it, and so how many people can you opt into those things right now?”
The city council is working to establish a special public safety committee to strengthen accountability after learning about the activities discovered by KDVR.
Morgan said the equipment can also offer other types of driver alerts, such as warnings of wrong-way drivers or drunk drivers.
Its intention is to offer the equipment and operation of the system “at cost” to the first agencies in a state to adopt the technology, within a reasonable time frame. The cost of the material, he said, is currently $150. and running the system is currently $6.25/month/unit. The total does not cover internal running costs. The normal retail price for the hardware, he said, is $199 and the retail operating cost is $12.50/unit/month.