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Rock County Sheriff's Office buying robot for use in SWAT situations

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AMES, ANN MARIE
April 5, 2013

— The Rock County Sheriff's Office continues to use money seized during drug arrests to buy safety equipment for police.

The latest purchase is a $20,520 tactical robot, called an Avatar II, to be used by the sheriff's SWAT team. The robot could be used in a standoff to enter a home or enclosed space and get information about the suspect inside, Sheriff Robert Spoden said.

The robot's role is to improve the safety of the entry teams, he said. It could eliminate the need for a SWAT team member to have to enter a dangerous situation, he said.

"You still have to have an entry team in the sense that you have to approach and open the door," Spoden said. "But you might not have to go inside."

He said deputies could have used the robot earlier this year when responding to a report of shots fired on a farm property in rural Rock County. Deputies responded to find a woman had been fatally shot. They knew a man had carried a gun into a building on the property. They did not know the man's condition, and it took several hours to secure the large property and enter the building.

With equipment such as the Avatar II, deputies could have seen inside the building and learned quickly that the man was unconscious inside.

"We could have made entry a lot sooner," Spoden said.

The machine is about two feet long and has tracks like those on a tank. It has audio and video equipment so deputies can see, hear and talk to the person barricaded inside.

It can go up and down stairs, take video in any direction and right itself if it is overturned, Spoden said.

The county's public safety and justice committee approved the purchase Monday. The county board is expected to approve the purchase Thursday.

The sheriff's office gets money from cars, homes or cash seized during drug arrests. The money is administered by a federal agency and only is allowed to be used for law enforcement purchases. The money must be used to supplement a budget rather than used for regular purchases such as fuel or supplies, Spoden said.

The sheriff's office this year also has purchased surveillance equipment using the drug money and expects to get a second K-9 unit this summer, Spoden said. That purchase will keep the number of police dogs in the county at four. The Beloit Police Department is retiring its dog; Janesville has two K-9 units.

The big purchase using the grant money is an armored vehicle that will be shared between Beloit, Janesville and sheriff's office.

The agencies bought the Bearcat armored vehicle and expect delivery in May, Spoden said. The total price of the 2009 vehicle is $160,000, according to Rock County Board documents. The city of Beloit paid for the vehicle; Janesville and Rock County agreed to each pay Beloit $40,000.

The vehicle could be used to respond in the event of a live shooter or other emergency, police officials have said.



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