Bomb disposal is a commonly known use of robots in law enforcement. But what about helping to end a stand-off with an armed naked man barricaded in his home? As evidenced by what's being called the Lindley Park incident by the Greensboro (N.C.) Police Department, "mechanical officers" have many uses.
On Jan. 31, a neighbor called 911 to report a man sitting on his porch with a firearm, calling to God. The Greensboro Special Response Team and Hostage Negotiation Team were called to the scene. Upon their arrival, the naked man, later identified as 41-year-old Jimmy Albert Burleson, reportedly shot at an officer seated in his car, hitting the vehicle. The officer fired back. No one was injured, but it wasn't clear what would happen next. Burleson retreated into his house.
Seeking to end the stand-off, police launched tear gas into the house, but the man remained inside. That was when officers began to deploy their remotely operated robots.
"We decided to use them because they could get closer than we could safely," says Greensboro PD Public Information Officer Susan Danielsen. The first robot, a Remotec Andros F6A, breached the door of the residence.
Robot 2, a Qinetiq Dragon Runner, ascended the porch steps and entered the now open door. It located the suspect inside the house and provided audio and video intel to the officers outside. But once Burleson saw it, he picked it up and slammed it on the floor several times, rendering it inoperable. But that didn't discourage Greensboro PD officers.
The Remotec robot that had been used to breach the door made entry just inside the front door and provided a point of communication with the suspect for the rest of the evening. After that robot ran out of battery power, a third robot, a Remotec Andros Mark VI, was deployed to take over. This was all done without a person having to set foot inside the residence.
Burleson eventually left his house to sit on a rocking chair on his porch, still naked. An SRT team from nearby High Point had relieved the Greenboro officers, and one of their K-9s followed by tactical officers were able to take him into custody; police say he resisted arrest.
"We always consider the robot; it provides such a force multiplier for us," says Danielsen. But they are complicated machines, with remote control devices that have around 30 buttons on them. "We have to be smart and well trained on how to operate the machine and know its capabilities and limitations. If you're going to use a robot as a tool, you have to be completely familiar with it," she says.
This is why Greensboro PD's units regularly train among themselves and with other local agencies-with and without robots. This allows them to work together and take over for each other seamlessly during drawn-out incidents like this one. Two of the robots used in this incident were purchased using Homeland Security funds, and one was bought without grant monies.
The Greensboro Police Department also uses its robots to clear buildings, ID subjects hiding or located in buildings, and to move, pick up, or deliver items with their arm-like appendages. "That's an increased safety factor for officers because they are not put in harm's way," says Danielsen. "I think everybody should have a robot."