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Suffolk police unveil robots to check out suspicious packages


On Tuesday Feb. 7, 2017, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini unveiled upgrades to the department's terrorism preparedness, including newly created SWAT training, addition of three specialized emergency response vehicles as well as three state-of-the-art robots to be used to inspect suspicious devices. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk police unveiled Tuesday new robots designed to determine whether a suspicious package is dangerous while officers watch from a distance.

Three new rapid-deployment bomb-squad devices were added to the Special Patrol Bureau’s arsenal of tactical weapons, officials said. The vehicles, the Avatar III Tactical Robot, have been in use since October and can also be used in other emergencies such as barricaded hostage situations, officials said.

Each robot features two cameras that give a clear picture of the package. The image is broadcast to a handheld remote-control device operated by a bureau officer. The machine can be operated from as far as a quarter-mile away, and possibly even farther with the assistance of an antenna, officials said.

The robot also has the capability to climb over stairs or rubble, sometimes gaining speeds as fast as 3 to 5 mph. A robotic arm can be attached to the device, allowing it to pick up objects, officials said.

“From an extremely safe distance, they can see if there are wires protruding or liquid leaking from a suspicious package,” Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said at a news conference at the bureau’s headquarters in Ronkonkoma. “This both ensures officer safety as well as the public’s.”

Emergency service Officer Tobias Monaco, who joined Sini along with other bureau officers, said: “My wife and kids love this because I don’t have to put on a bomb suit and go right down on the package. I can do this from a safe distance and get intel.”

Sini said calls for suspicious packages occur “on a weekly basis, sometimes it feels like a daily basis. And while most of those calls turn out to be false alarms, we have to make sure that we are prepared to confront the dangers that exist in this country and this world.”

Special Patrol Bureau officers responded to 118 calls for a suspicious package in 2016, officials said. The department’s bomb experts have responded to calls ranging from old military weapons such as grenades to pipe bombs and even pressure devices, officials said.

The robotic devices, which cost more than $50,000, were purchased with the help of a state grant for bomb squads, Sini said. They will be used in addition to other bulkier machines the department had but which can’t go into such tight quarters.

The model purchased is the same one used by the NYPD, Nassau County Police Department and by law enforcement agencies in major cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Houston, Oakland, San Francisco and others, a company official said.

Officials also used a homeland security grant to purchase 15 pairs of night vision goggles for officers trying to find missing persons or anyone trying to evade police, officials said.

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