It is a tool the Porterville Police Department hopes it rarely uses, but if the situation arises, officers now have a remote controlled robot to call upon.
Last week, officers with the Department’s SWAT team trained with RoboteX, a small, but very effective robot that can be used when a person barricades themselves. The robot was purchased last May and so far has only been called upon for training.
“It’s got quite a few capabilities on it,” said Sgt. Dominic Barteau, spokesperson for the department. “Its primary purpose is to minimize exposure to officers.”
The 24-by-15-by-6 inch robot is designed to enter a structure where a person has refused TO surrender. It is not a weapon, but a means in which officers can see inside a building to know what they are up against.
“It’s not if we will go in. We will go in,” said Barteau of the SWAT team and how it handles situation.
The robot, which cost just under $20,000, has two cameras, a microphone and earphones so it can listen, see and if necessary, communicate with a suspect or suspects. It can climb stairs and traverse most terrain. It can right itself if knocked over.
“We can clear 90 percent of a building,” said Barteau, adding the robot can let officers know how many subjects are inside, if there are weapons or explosives and the conditions of any hostages or victims. It can even be used to deliver food or drink into a structure.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office used its robot a while back in an incident in Woodville where a man had killed is wife. The robot was able to show officers the conditions inside the home and where the suspect was located and his condition. A few minutes after the robot was inside, officers followed and arrested the man.
Barteau said there have only been a few times the robot would have been used in the recent past. One situation would have been the Aug. 2011 killing where A man barricaded himself in a home on Henderson Avenue. Police did utilize the sheriff’s office robot last year during an incident on Milo Street.
The main purpose of the robot is to minimize the risk to officers. While the robot is durable, it is designed to take the bullets that otherwise would have been shot at officers.
“We’d rather a suspect damage that thing,” said Barteau pointing at the robot.
Barteau explained the robot only goes out with the entire SWAT team of 13 officers. Two of the team members are proficient in operating the remote control, but all members have been trained on maneuvering it. It can be operated by a stationary remote control device, or by a hand held remote control. The officer can see and hear what the robot sees and hears.
The robot will only be used in situations when the officers have time to wait out the subject. Barteau said in most instances it would not be deployed until about an hour into an incident.
“Usually, it is sent in when things have been stagnant for a while and when subject has ended contact,” said Barteau.
He added the robot travels with the SWAT team, so if the team is called to an incident outside of the city, the robot would be available.
During last week’s training the robot was used to bring a subject out of the building, then sent back in for the other subjects. Helping out the officers were three students from Porterville High School playing the parts of those in the house. They were Beverly Atherton, Jordin Johnson and Maggie Estrada.
Asset forfeiture funds — money or money from items seized in drug cases — were used to purchase the robot.