When Grand Island police officers face potential danger, they can throw a robot at it.
The department’s tactical response team makes frequent use of a small robot that’s so durable it’s called a Throwbot. The remote-controlled device is equipped with a video camera.
Police might throw the robot through an open second-story window. Using the handheld device, officers can move the device around the second floor, then bounce it downstairs to investigate the first floor.
The robot is used mostly for reconnaissance, says Capt. Jim Duering. It’s employed in standoffs or situations where a suspect might be hiding inside a building.
The live video feed helps make an officer’s entry as safe as possible “before you insert them into that situation,” Duering said. The robot can also help ensure the safety of those inside a building.
The device is built by Recon Robotics, which calls itself the “world leader in tactical micro-robot systems.” According to the Recon Robotics website, the Throwbot weighs 1.2 pounds and can be thrown up to 120 feet. The company also boasts that the device is exceptionally quiet.
The Grand Island Police Department has had the robot since 2011. It cost $10,000 to $12,000.
The gadget was one of the pieces of equipment shown to Youth Leadership Tomorrow Wednesday on the group’s visit to the Law Enforcement Center. Students were impressed with the robot, which is sort of the department’s friendly little assistant.
The device is helpful, Sgt. Dean Kottwitz says, when an armed suspect might be inside a back-room closet.
In addition, police might toss the device into a basement before officers enter to see if anyone is hiding underneath stairs.
“We’ve also used it for attics and crawl spaces,” said Capt. Dean Elliott.
Officers can attach a pole to the robot to take a peek into an attic. By rotating the camera 360 degrees, “we can see if there’s somebody up there waiting to ambush us,” Elliott said.
Kottwitz, who is the supervisor of the tactical response team, said it doesn’t make a lot of sense for officers to go rushing into a room if they can check it out first with the robot.
If a suspect isn’t anxious to come out, police can pump pepper gas into the room and “encourage him to come out voluntarily-ish,” Kottwitz said to the students.
The camera is infrared, so it can see fairly well in the dark.
“If there’s an opportunity where we can put in a camera without putting in a person to see if it’s safe, we’re going to just take a little extra time and do that,” Duering said.
The Grand Island robot was one of three obtained through a grant obtained by South Central Area Law Enforcement Services (SCALES). The Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department has one of the devices. The other is shared by the Hastings Police Department and the Adams County Sheriff’s Department.