In just a few short years, GPS trackers have already made our lives better in a number of different ways. When was the last time you got lost, for example? It’s probably been a decade or more if you’re a smartphone owner, as most modern-day devices have a GPS tracker built right in.

GPS Tracking

Even fleet managers and other logistics professionals regularly use GPS tracker technology to gain better control over their assets. They can see where specific vehicles are at any given moment, thus putting managers in the best position to better allocate resources, monitor the driving habits of those employees and more.

Many law enforcement agencies around the country use GPS trackers in police cruisers for largely the exact same thing. Agency officials can get a bird’s-eye view of where their officers are on a real-time basis, thus allowing them access to the type of insight they need to make better, more informed decisions about crime prevention moving forward.

Sadly, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is not one of them. According to a study reported on by KMOV4 out of St. Louis, most St. Louis City cruisers don’t have these types of GPS devices installed. The potential implications of this — particularly in the modern era — are harrowing, to say the least.

GPS Trackers in Police Cruisers, or a Lack Thereof

A spokesperson for the St. Louis police department said that only “some” department vehicles currently have GPS trackers, and it’s already causing problems around the city. Recently, Officer Katilyn Alix was sadly shot and killed by a fellow officer, Nate Hendren. It’s a terrible situation — but it’s also a confusing one, because it turns out that Hendren and his partner were miles from their assigned district at the time of the shooting.

To this day, agency officials say they still don’t understand why Hendren and his partner weren’t where they were supposed to be. This is a scenario where a GPS tracker may have made a significant impact.

If a GPS tracker had been installed in Hendren’s cruiser, officials would have seen that he wasn’t in his assigned location before the incident took place. They could have asked why, obtained more information, and made sure they got back to that district. Or if Alix’s cruiser had a GPS tracker, maybe Hendren would have known that he was coming up on another police officer instead of a criminal. These are hypotheticals, yes — but it’s hard to argue the fact that if GPS tracker technology had been involved, the situation would have likely played out far, far differently than it really did.

Nobody is saying that officer Alix would still be alive beyond the shadow of a doubt if Hendren (or his supervisors) had access to real-time GPS information on that night. That’s something we can never know. But at the same time, you do have to wonder. One recent study showed that only about 69% of law enforcement agencies around the country currently have GPS devices in their cruisers. In those districts, cars are usually monitored live – something that officials say is for both safety and efficiency purposes.

A lot of departments around the St. Louis area are smaller in nature, however, and are less likely to have the trackers. On the one hand, police departments have existed for hundreds of years without this technology and they’ve been able to successfully police their communities. This much is true. However, it’s difficult to advocate against their deployment — especially if they could help prevent terrible situations like this one.

At this point, it’s unclear whether or not agency officials will be able to take any meaningful steps to get more GPS tracking devices installed in SLMPD cruisers in the near future. But one thing is for sure – both law enforcement professionals and privacy advocates will be watching this situation very closely moving forward.