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Police Turn to Heavy-Duty Crime-Fighting Equipment

The Alexandria Police Department has two very important pieces of new equipment to help officers serve the city’s residents better.

The first is a robot. The second is an armored personnel carrier.

The robot is about two feet high and travels about one and a half miles per hour. It is equipped with cameras, a microphone and an arm for lifting things. The department purchased the robot last fall with federal funds.

Officer Tim Kyburz is one of four members of the department who went to Oakridge, Tenn., to be trained on the robot. He is a member of the Special Operations team and is responsible for maintaining the department’s mobile computers.

“I was selected to go to training because I am a member of the special operations team and because of the technology behind the robot,” Kyburz said. “We can operate the robot using remote satellite technology or with fiber optic cable. Obviously, we have more flexibility when we can use the satellite technology.”

The department has already used the robot to assist in one operation. Kyburz explained, “We had a hostage situation on the west end of the city where a man was holding his estranged wife and their children at gunpoint,. Shots were fired and the wife was able to run from the home. The children were still sleeping.

“After she left the home," Kybruz related, "there was another shot. When we weren’t able to get the man to respond to us, we sent the robot into the home,” Kyburz said.

Kyburz drove the robot to the sliding glass doors of the home from the mobile command center. Through the robot’s camera, officers were able to see into the home where someone was lying on the floor. Using the robot’s arm, officers opened the door and drove the robot into the apartment. The camera showed them the husband, lying on the floor with a gunshot wound. He was dead.

“The robot allows us to look at situations without putting an officer in harm’s way,” said Sgt. Jim Craige, who is assigned to the special operations team. “We have been able to operate the robot from as far away as four tenths of a mile so you can see how useful it can be.”

THE ROBOT CAN climb a vertical wall that is 18 inches high and can easily go over curbs and ascend and descend stairs. The arm can be manipulated to lift things from shelves or to drag things that are on the floor. “A lot of what it can do depends on the skill of the operator,” Kyburz said.

The police department has conducted joint training exercises with the Alexandria Fire Department. “The hazardous materials folks are interested in using it equipped with sensors that measure the levels of different chemical agents,” Craige said. “There are many different ways it can be of service to the community.”

The robot cost $97,000. “We have been very pleased with its capabilities,” Craige said.

The department is also pleased with the new armored personnel carrier. The vehicle can carry 11 fully dressed tactical officers. There are larger personnel carriers but this one was selected for a specific reason.

“We selected this vehicle because it can fit into the many alleys that we have in Alexandria,” said Lt. Jack Compton, one of the members of the special operations team who drives the vehicle. “Also, because it’s on a truck chaser, you don’t have to have a commercial driver’s license to operate it.”

THE VEHICLE CAN travel up to 85 miles per hour. It is bullet proof, covered with three eighths inch steel. “The glass is bullet proof and the engine is covered with steel,” Compton said. “It is a very safe vehicle.”

The vehicle has turrets on each side and on top that can be used to shoot from or as a means of communicating with suspects. There are doors in the back of the vehicle that are very useful.

“We take it on all of our operations but have only used it once,” Compton said.

Police learned the whereabouts of a man who was wanted on several felony warrants. He was in a house on N. Columbus Street. Police drove the armored personnel carrier to the home and loaded the large suspect into the back of the vehicle. They drove him to a fire station where he was transferred to a regular cruiser and taken to jail.

“It was a very quick operation,” Compton said. “We were able to get him quickly into the vehicle through the rear doors without any problem.”

This vehicle cost just over $140,000 and, like the robot, was purchased with federal grant funds following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Virginia State Police have several of these same vehicles and Fairfax County is considering purchasing one.

“As you can see, it is very useful and allows officers to conduct operations with the maximum amount of safety,” said Capt. Tim Dickinson.

Police plan to show the armored personnel carrier to Alexandrians during National Night Out in August. “We will drive it around and just let people see what it is and how it can be of use to us,” Compton said.