It's time for another of my just-about-once-a-year reports on the Border Patrol's adventures with modern technology.
The Border Patrol is, after all, just about the only immigration agency that copes with what might be called "outdoor technology" — the others deal with computers, the internet, and other indoor devices.
The Border Patrol's efforts to use high-tech approaches to controlling illegal immigration often succeed, notably the use of sensors that detect illicit arrivals out of sight of their agents' binoculars.
It has had generally good results with its stationary blimps, people-free installations that provide around-the-clock visual and electronic information on what is happening below, except when one of them falls down.
Other efforts have been less successful, such as its continuing problems with tunnels along the western part of our border with Mexico. This is strictly a regional problem, however, as a low-tech solution, called the Rio Grande, eliminates tunnels as a threat south and east of El Paso.
The agency's most recent advance deals with a problem that is quite familiar to other police agencies — what do you do when a driver speeds away from officers?
High-speed chases are dangerous to all concerned, roadblocks can be set up ahead of the speeding car only when both the geography and the timing are exactly right, and efforts to slow the car by blowing out its tires can hurt bystanders and cause fatal crashes.
There is a time-tested answer to this question; it involves boxing in the miscreant vehicle, but that takes at least four police cars, lots of communication at high speeds, the right kind of roadway, and a certain amount of luck. In this scenario, one car follows the offending vehicle, at least one other vehicle drives in front of it, and the other two are on its sides; the quartet or quintet, in an almost ballet-like maneuver, then slow down at the same speed, creating a neat box around the culprit car, and then everyone stops.
Is there a way that a single good-guy car can stop the bad-guy car, all by itself? The agency thinks so and modestly states deep down in a press release: "The use of this new version of a vehicle immobilization device was the first recorded within the United States Border Patrol."
I think that means that the Patrol used it first in a real-life chase situation; this occurred at the Calexico (Calif.) Station on November 5; the vehicle concerned was carrying a driver with a border crossing card, a young female U.S. citizen along for the ride, and four illegal aliens.
What is the device? It is called a Grappler; it is stuck on the front bumper of a Border Patrol chase car, which pushes forward a lasso-type tape that wraps around the back wheel of the fleeing car, and thus allows the chase car to bring both cars to a halt as the brakes of the chase car overwhelm the motor of the fleeing one. The device seems to freeze the back wheel; the commercial video shows it attacking the cars' left rear tire. The chase car must get within a few feet of the fleeing car to make it work, so it is not totally danger-free.
Grapplers are made by a company called Grappler Police Bumpers; its website states it is in Peoria, Ariz., presumably a start up. The Border Patrol press release links to this video — furnished by the manufacturer.
It will be interesting to see if other agencies follow the Patrol's lead in this instance.