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Lexington Sheriff’s Department gets new robot to deal with bombs and other high hazard missions


Edmund, SC (Paul Kirby) – The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department recently received a new robot that will provide them advanced capabilities when called to deal with bombs and other emergencies. Wednesday morning, specially trained officers put that bot through its paces as reporters from across the Midlands snapped pictures at the department’s firearms range near Edmund.

According to Captain Hampton Taylor, the department’s officer that oversees special operations, this is the second robot of its kind in Lexington County. “We have an older robot we have had for some time,” Taylor said. “Over the past several years, we’ve had difficulty getting spare parts to repair the older one and we had no backup for when it was down. When we talk about specialized equipment such as this, we say two is one and one is none,” he continued. “In the past, if our robot broke down or required more than field maintenance, we were forced to borrow one from SLED or another adjacent agency. If we need the robot for an actual emergency, that wasted valuable time.”

The department received the robot from the US military at no cost through the federal 1033 program. This program allows participating government agencies to receive surplus equipment like the robot once the military doesn’t need it any more. This prevents the government from simply scrapping equipment that may be very expensive if it can be of use to smaller federal, state, or local government agencies.

Taylor pointed out that the 1033 program is essential to equipping local departments with expensive equipment. “A robot like this would probably cost more than $250,000 new and that would be a budget buster for us. With 1033, we received it in good condition and no Lexington County property tax dollars were used to acquire it.”

The new robot has several cameras on it that allows it to be operated from a distance by a specially trained deputy. It can be directed by the operator wirelessly or by several types of tethers that can include a fiber optic “leash” that plays out behind it as it moves. Taylor said that the options are important in areas where there are many radio signals or interference that may disrupt communications between the robot and its operator.

In addition to the cameras, the robot has a powerful light to illuminate its path in the dark, a claw and arm that can manipulate and move objects or parcels, and a mount for a stripped-down firearm much like a shotgun. That weapon can be used to shoot and destroy suspicious packages with special water rounds or slugs if they are deemed too dangerous to move.

Although the robot is small, it weighs about 150 pounds and it is extremely powerful. During the demonstration Wednesday, the robot easily dragged an employee of the Sheriff’s Department who feigned unconsciousness across the ground. This simulated the robot retrieving someone who may have been injured in a situation such as an ambush or sniper attack.

Captain Taylor pointed out that it was safer to send the robot into a dangerous situation than it was to dispatch a man or team down range when dealing with a high hazard object or scenario. “We can replace a robot,” Taylor said. “We would never be able to really replace that deputy we lost if someone was injured or killed,” he concluded.

Besides dealing with bombs and dragging downed personnel, the new robot can climb stairs and operate on unimproved ground and rough terrain. Besides its four rubber tires, it has arms on both the front and back that can be adjusted to totally lift its body or stabilize it if it begins to tip. It can also recon areas during situations that appear dangerous to ensure they are safe before sending in human personnel.

When the robot’s job is done, two men can lift it into a truck for a return ride to its home base in Lexington. To return it to duty, it requires a quick charge of its batteries, a little cleaning up of any dirt or debris it picked up while working, a thorough check over for loose fasteners or damaged parts, and some other basic maintenance. After that, it’s ready to go again.

Captain Taylor’s team of deputies that deal with bomb scares or actual incidents includes personnel that have attended and graduated a six weeks training program that’s taught by the government. The entire special operations team trains regularly in case they are needed. “In Lexington County, we are blessed that we don’t have a high volume of calls to deal with suspicious parcels or objects that might be an explosive, but we train as if we have those calls every day.”

In today’s world, a lost bag, an out of place box, or even a trash can that’s sitting where one normally doesn’t, could be a hazard. As global terrorism and conflict has risen, and the internet has made the recipes and blue prints for a bomb just a Google away, so has the probability that we will one day face a situation where the Sheriff’s robot is called in to service. If a situation presents itself, know that our first line of defense is well trained and equipped to deal with it quickly and safely.

You can learn more about the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and its various divisions by going to their website at http://www.lexingtonscsheriff.com.

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