Remote-control device lets police stop or disable getaway vehicles

Cars that fall apart haven't been in demand since the last Yugo rolled off the assembly line a few years ago.

But Transcrypt International Inc., a little-known maker of phone encryption devices out of Lincoln, Neb., has been quietly providing some international police agencies with the technology to turn any car into a pile of junk.Using the same technology it developed to prevent unauthorized interception of voice and data communications, Transcrypt has armed police with a remote-control device that can make a car's wheels fall off, doors fly open and let the cops take over the steering wheel. In other instances, officers can use the device to lock the windows and fill the car with tear gas, safely knocking out would-be bank robbers or terrorists.

"Our business has been built on problem solving," said Eric Baumann, Transcrypt's vice president of North America operations. "A lot of customers come to us with a security problem, and we work with the client to provide a solution."

Because of its cost and sensitive nature, Transcrypt has no plans to start marketing the device broadly. It won't even say which police agencies are using it. The company has managed to keep the technology quiet for several years, and it's not comfortable disclosing a lot of details.

But officers in other jurisdictions are using equally unique technologies to disable get-away cars, from road spikes to harpoons.

Last year, inventors at the Energy Department's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls unveiled a retractable spiked road barrier strip they hope police departments nationwide will use to safely halt high-speed chases.

While similar strips have been used for years, they can cause drivers to lose control of a vehicle and roll over. They can also pose a danger to other vehicles on the road.

But the new strip, called the RoadSpike, features retractable hollow spikes that pop up when an officer presses a button on a remote control. The spikes embed in the vehicle's tires as the driver goes over it, causing the tires to deflate gradually to allow the car to come to a controlled stop. After police nab their suspect, the device can be deactivated immediately.

PMG Manufacturing Group Inc., a Wheeling, W.Va., company that bought the license to make the RoadSpike, projects it will make $40 million in the first five years selling the strips. So far, it has shipped 50 to 100 units to police departments nationwide. The strips cost about $550.

Police using the Transcrypt device can also keep track of those who would attempt to flee justice. But it's more than a locator - officers using the Transcrypt device can listen in on what's happening in the vehicle by way of a hidden two-way radio. Meanwhile, officers can also control the steering wheel, acceleration and brakes, giving them total control of attempted get-aways.

Transcrypt's device can be made to work on any car. In fact, integrating the technology into upscale vehicles - Cadillacs, BMWs and such - is easier because they have more sophisticated electronics systems, says Baumann. Some of the same applications used to combat bank robbers and terrorists have also been installed in taxi cabs and police cruisers to prevent the wrong people from driving off.

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