How Robots are an Effective Tool for Law Enforcement

Robots have the capability to save lives of officers, citizens, and suspects. That's why they can be essential equipment for your agency.

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It's not exactly news to state that robots can be an effective tool for law enforcement in a wide variety of incidents. These devices—with a vast diversity of mission capabilities and primary purposes—have been used in countless scenarios across the country.

Most deployments never make the news, or are perhaps simply overlooked in stories written about the incident. However, the police robot occasionally makes regional or national news. Here are a few examples.

Making the News

Perhaps the most famous incident making national news is when Dallas Police ended a 45-minute gun battle and two-hour standoff with a military trained sniper by sending in a robot and deploying an explosive comprised of C-4, killing the gunman. The department took some considerable heat for that, but it was tactically the only option to end a deadly incident.

Fast-forward to very recently also in Texas and another incident in which a robot was used to make an arrest gained national attention. In late September, Austin Police—conducting a high-risk traffic stop in the middle of an interstate highway—got into a standoff with a woman in a vehicle. After a lengthy standoff, the robot smashed the driver's side window and responding officers were able to safely get her from the car and make the arrest.

Earlier this year—in New York—a police robot was at the center of the story as NYPD deployed an advanced "inspection robot dog" named "Spot" to evaluate a scene after a gunman shot a woman in the head and then fled into a nearby basement. Armed with the information gathered by "Spot" the suspect was ultimately taken into custody.

Most recently—in November—police in California deployed a robot during a standoff situation in the city of Sherman Oaks with a man who had allegedly fired shots at CHP officers. In this instance, the robot delivered a pack of cigarettes to the home as the suspect had asked police negotiators for a "pack of smokes."

There are dozens of other incidents involving robots—far too many to list—but you get the idea. These machines are invaluable.

Now, what do you as Command Staff charged with purchasing and implementing a robot program need to consider in the process. Let's address that here.

Considerations for Implementing

First and foremost, you have to define the mission parameters and the needs of the agency that could be resolved with the purchase.

What do you want your robot to do for you? There are several "general purpose" designs but there are also models designed for specific missions. Commanders should come to agreement on the scope of the use of the asset, outline a plan, and then begin contacting manufacturers to see what they have to offer.

Then there's the matter of budget. What can your agency afford? Think during this discussion about the cost of implementing a robot program the cost of training and maintenance. The work done on your new robot will not be done by your agency's outsourced motor-pool provider at the local gas station. Then there's the matter of training costs. Think from every angle about what the program will cost.

You also have to consider the matter of public perception—and in some cases participation in the process—of the purchase of a police robot. Like UAVs, robots are wildly unpopular with a certain segment of the community. It would be a good idea to hold a meeting with all stakeholders. Create a forum in which they are heard by Command Staff about their concerns, but also be well prepared to explain the benefits to the community that will be gained by adding a robot to the ranks.

Myriad Excellent Options

The robot used in that Dallas parking garage was a Remotec Androx Mark V A-1. The machine suffered minor damage during the incident and is still in service.

The "Spot" robot used in the New York incident was made by Boston Dynamics, which makes a wide variety of machines that meet all kinds of mission requirements.

Other manufacturers to consider contacting are JW Fishers, RoboteX, FLIR Systems, SDR Tactical/SuperDroid Robots, Knightscope, ReconRobotics, Sarcos Robotics, and Transcend Robotics.

Final Thoughts

Robots have the capability to save lives of citizens and suspects. Robots have the capacity to vastly increase officer safety. They can be used in bomb operations, standoff situations, and dozens of other ways. Whatever choice you make in your purchase, know that you've made a good decision.

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Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot
Contributing Editor
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