The Franklin County SWAT Team has a new tool in its arsenal that could help save lives.
The sheriff’s office purchased an ICOR Technology Caliber MK4 robot through a grant earlier this year. The robot has been in use by the department for over two months, but it has not yet been used in a real life situation.
The cost of the robot was $53,000, which was paid through a St. Louis Area Regional Response System (STARRS) grant, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
“It is priceless when it comes to the preservation of life of an officer who could be killed in the line of duty,” said Sheriff Steve Pelton.
The MK4 is the third robot owned by the department, and it offers upgrades over the previous two.
One advantage of the new robot, which features a 4-foot extending arm with a claw, is it can open doors, according to Lt. Mike Richardson — supervisor of special operations and SWAT.
“The other two were stumped at a closed door,” he added.
The claw also can grab items.
A key use of the robot is communicating with a suspect who may be barricaded inside a building.
There are four cameras on the equipment as well as microphones on the robot and the handheld controller. The controller also has a screen where the video from the cameras can be viewed.
“It really can be used in any situation with a suicidal or homicidal person with no victims,” said Richardson. “We would rather get a robot shot up.”
Maj. T.J. Wild added the robot is “operation dependent” and is versatile in its uses.
“It typically is for when we want to slow things down,” he said.
Wild noted the robot can be the tool to help communicate with a person who otherwise would be intimidated by officers.
It also is used to gather information at a scene.
“If there is no contact with anyone in a building to get real-time information,” Wild said. “If we have no information and we send people in, it is not a good thing.”
He explained that the robot has no weapons.
Each SWAT Team member is trained to use the robot, as well as the administrative staff who also go out on calls as drivers and support.
Richardson noted the administrative staff will likely be the first to use the equipment to free up SWAT members.
“If I can get another guy to use the robot then we will have more experience for the actual incident itself,” he said.
Richardson added there are multiple attachments and upgrades that could be purchased for the robot.
“The options are endless,” he said.
The Caliber MK4 robot is a larger version of a robot purchased about 10 years ago. That was the department’s second robot.
The first robot used by the SWAT Team was a mini-Caliber “throw robot” which is hand held and can be tossed into a window or door.
The second robot was purchased over five years ago and also can climb stairs.
Richardson noted all of the robots have infrared cameras and microphones, but only the MK4 can communicate with a person through the robot.
All of the robots are taken to an incident. Last year there were 26 incidents in which the SWAT Team responded.
The three robots all were purchased with STARR grants.