Police find friends in robots big and small
- Article by: ANDY THOMPSON
- Associated Press
- October 12, 2013 - 12:05 AM
APPLETON, Wis. — When police officers became embroiled in a standoff with an armed man at a Menasha apartment earlier this month, they didn't rush in to make an arrest.
Instead, they sent a small, remote-controlled robot unit — equipped with video and communication capabilities — into the residence to quell the disturbance.
And it worked. Shortly after the robot was deployed, the 24-year-old man walked out of the apartment and was taken into custody on a variety of charges.
"It definitely helped," said Aaron Zemlock, community liaison officer with the Menasha Police Department. "He realized that we weren't going to go away, and it was the thing that got him outside and talking to law enforcement (officers)."
It was the second time in only a few weeks that Menasha police put a robotic device to use during a potentially dangerous situation, Post-Crescent Media reported (http://post.cr/16U7M5f).
In mid-September, the Brown-Outagamie County Bomb Squad was called to a Lisbon Street residence after authorities learned there may have been explosive materials inside the home. A large, fully equipped robot was sent inside the house to check for devices. The scene was cleared without problems.
The incidents show that robots have emerged as valuable tools for Fox Valley police agencies that respond to everything from high-level domestic disturbances to tension-packed standoffs. Police agencies have utilized micro robots — which are placed, or thrown, inside buildings to provide video evidence for police tactical team members — along with the imposing larger robots.
"It had a positive impact," Zemlock said of the mini-robot used in the recent domestic dispute. "The robot was deployed and within 30 seconds, the man picked it up and carried it outside and we took him into custody. It got his attention."
Placing the robot inside through the back door of the apartment was preferable to knocking down the door and confronting the man, Zemlock said.
The robot provided video of the inside of the apartment and was equipped to establish phone communication with the suspect.
"We were able to get eyes inside the apartment without risking bodily harm," Zemlock said.
The robot was loaned to Menasha police by the Appleton Police Department, which obtained it about a year ago, according to Sgt. David Lund.
Lund said the small unit has been deployed at times during night-shift disturbances when officers are trying to communicate with someone who refuses to come to the door.
"With its video capabilities, we can see if someone is there and see what they are — or aren't — doing," he said. "And we have the capability of communicating through the robot."
Lund said the robot can provide a layer of protection for police who respond to serious disturbances.
"It gives us a better opportunity to ensure the safety of officers by not going into a (potentially dangerous) situation."
That sentiment is shared by Lt. Chris Knurr of the Brown County Sheriff's Department and the Brown-Outagamie Bomb Squad.
Since 2002, the bomb squad has used its 500-pound robot when responding to emergency calls.
"Each (crime) scene is different," Knurr said. "But if we can, we definitely use a robot instead of sending a team member in there. It makes sense to have the robot do the work rather than putting officers in harm's way."
The robot, which also is used for SWAT calls, is operated remotely by an officer. The robot can navigate stairs after getting into a home and can go through rooms to check for explosive devices, Knurr said.
"It's pretty versatile," he said. "It's just like having your own eyes and walking into a residence."
Knurr said the $250,000 robot has been a good investment.
"It's an invaluable piece of equipment."
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by Post-Crescent Media
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