RPSO's robotic deputy - KALB-TV News Channel 5 & CBS 2

RPSO's robotic deputy

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RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB News Channel 5) - Alexandria has had two instances of suspicious packages in the past nine months. Each time, bomb squads have come in from around the state to address the threat, usually with a robot.

Alexandria has its own bomb management technology, but no bomb technicians. The Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office is trying to change that. 

 

It's the most versatile member of RPSO. 

"It's a multi-purpose vehicle, small vehicle of robotics," said Sgt. Jason Jenkins. "It has an arm that goes forward, backward, sideways."

This little robot can be sent into dangerous situations not suitable for a human, like deploying a throw phone to a hostage taker, or sending gas munitions into a riot.

"You can manipulate objects as far as opening doorknobs," Sgt. Jenkins said. "Pulling doors open, moving items out of the way in front of the robot."

But what it cannot do is respond to a bomb threat, such as the suspicious package incident in Alexandria a few weeks ago. That's not because the robot doesn't have the capabilities - rest assured, it does - it's because Rapides Parish doesn't have a certified bomb technician.

Deputies say, that's not up to Rapides Parish. 

"We have been trying to get what's called a needs assessment through the federal government," said Lt. Tommy Carnline. "We may not make the needs assessment. We may not have the need to have a bomb technician. That's something that will be determined by the federal government."

If the federal government does approve the request, it's off to bomb tech class they go.

"It's a lengthy school, in Alabama," Lt. Carnline said. "It's expensive, and it's very intense."

And until then, this $200,000 deputy still has a few tricks up its robotic sleeve, like a taser, or a 37-millimeter cannon that can shoot a bean bag at least a hundred yards.

And it's all in pursuit of safety - safety of civilians and officers alike.

"It is better to err on the side of caution than it is to push a bad situation," said Lt. Carnline. 

RPSO has had the robot since 2009. There is no timeline yet for when the needs assessment for a bomb technician could go through.

 

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