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December 27, 2008

Danger, Will Robinson! I Mean, WCPD Bomb Squad: New Bomb-Detecting Robot to Join Force


The Walnut Creek City Council recently gave approval to the Police Department to use already designated state Homeland Security funds to buy a new bomb-detecting robot and to upgrade the wireless operating system on an existing robot used by the department’s Bomb Team. The total cost for the new robot and the upgrade is $261,000, for which the city will be reimbursed.


The new Talon robot will help the WCPD, which has the county’s only bomb team, to investigate and dispose of explosive devices found anywhere in Contra Costa County. (The robot pictured here is not the actual robot the WCPD is ordering, but is similar to the line of Talon robots that the Massachussetts-based manufacturer, Foster-Miller, is developing for domestic police agencies.)
The new robot can also detect hazardous materials, WCPD Lt. Mark Covington tells me. The department has a cooperative arrangement with all the other police agencies in the county to send its bomb team out to scenes where suspected explosives are located. Covington says that his department’s bomb team handles 40 to 50 calls a year.


This robot is part of a county Office of Emergency Services effort to help local police uncover “weapons of mass destruction,” according to Covington’s report to the WC City Council. (Hmm, maybe the “weapons of mass destruction” that the United States didn’t find in Iraq are stashed somewhere in Contra Costa County.)


Anyway, speaking of Iraq, a 2007 Wired magazine blog talks about how Foster-Miller has long made similar robots for the US military to use in Iraq. The company has begun to market a special line of remote-controlled robots to civilian police departments in the United States, specifically for use by police SWAT teams and bomb squads.


Covington says the department will order the new robot soon, but doesn’t know yet when it will be delivered. He adds that this new robot is smaller and faster than the robot the department now possesses, and will allow the bomb squad to respond to multiple incidents. The department’s existing robot enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame last March when it was photographed for print and TV media, being sent into a home police had surrounded near downtown Walnut Creek, because a homicide suspect was believed to have barricaded himself inside.

4 comments:

Superior Firepower said...

Because this is the only department in the county to have a robot, I am OK with this. However, I do not want to see other departments screaming how they now need one because WC has one, or of some kind of "pipe-dream" fear of something very unlikely to happen. All in the name of officer safety?

I beleive in that too, but not at a quarter million dollars a pop. Not when everyone is scrambling for money just to meet current budgets. That quarter million would be better served to upgrade current weapons that are issued to officers, (like assault side arms, rifles, body armor, non-lethal applications, comunications gear, cruisers, etc.) instead of just buying a single robot.

Or adding officers to understaffed forces so there is not so much overtime paid out to OD officers which is also over-taxing budgets.

Anonymous said...

The Walnut Creek bomb squad just likes to show off their fancy gadgets.

They used some fancy intruder detection equipment during a domestic violence call in the Creek this summer. They decided to test it after an officer heard a shot inside the house while speaking to the "victim" at the front door. Almost 2 hours went by before they realized the guy had shot himself. It just makes me wonder if the guy could have lived had they responded differently. Suicide is a touchy subject, but maybe the guy just panicked.

Is technology getting in the way of common sense?

Anonymous said...

To the first poster: These items are purchased with money that comes from Federal Homeland Security grants that can only be spent on equipment that can be used regionally. In other words the robot is a regional asset and not just for WCPD. The money isn't there for anything the city or county wants. If if is not spent here it would go to New York City, LA or some other area for terrorism prevention. Also, other agencies in Contra Costa County do not have bomb squads so even if they asked for federal money to buy one it would not be approved by the officals overseeing how the money is spent.
To the second poster: If you want to rush into a house where a crazy person is firing a gun have at it. Don't ask police officers to risk their lives unnecessarily when there are much safer methods for both officers and the surrounding community (i.e. a robot).

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