By Scott Harris, Freelance Writer
|Note: Police Chief magazine, from time-to-time, offers feature-length articles on products and services that are useful to law enforcement administrators. This article features tactical and protective equipment and services.|
actical and protective equipment and services do more than simply protect law enforcement officers. Thanks to ever-advancing technologies, protection increasingly means keeping law enforcement out of harm’s way in the first place.
Robotics is a key piece of this equation. Once bulky and one-dimensional, new law enforcement robots are more nimble, more compact, and more efficient. This allows SWAT teams and other units to deploy robots more often in more situations—and, by extension, keep people safer and help operations proceed more quickly and efficiently.
“These teams are working in highly hostile environments. Anything safer is a good thing,” said Matthew Speakman, account manager with RoboteX, a tactical and personal safety technology company based in Silicon Valley, California, “Sometimes an operation like clearing a house can take seven or eight hours because people are not sure about safety. But with a robot, you can do it in a matter of minutes.”1
Compared with earlier models, newer robots are not only more effective but easier to use, Speakman said.
“There are robots that have been in use for a number of years, but they’re mainly bomb-detecting robots, which can weigh 700-800 pounds and require a lot of training,” Speakman said. “With the newer robots, we pride ourselves on ease of use. You can become a certified operator in a matter of seconds. The robots can travel up stairs and over obstacles without getting hung up on debris.”
Robots are more often serving a wide array of specialized purposes. For example, ReconRobotics, a manufacturer headquartered in Minnesota, calls itself the world leader in tactical microrobot systems. Among other products, ReconRobotics developed the ThrowBot, a one-pound robot that can literally be thrown into a
“They’re higher tech and they’re lighter weight,” said Aimee Barmore, ReconRobotics director of law enforcement and federal programs. “They can search and clear a house, or they can break open doors and tear down walls. They move so quietly they’re not going to get noticed. You can see what’s going on and figure out what needs to happen.”2
Barmore cited an April incident in Gwinnett County, Georgia, in which a gunman took five firefighters hostage. A ReconRobotics robot entered the house and through its video capability revealed that the suspect was dousing the inside of his house in gasoline. That and other information from the robot helped SWAT team members neutralize the situation without any major injuries to the hostages. The gunman was killed by SWAT team members.
“One of the teams used a robot to clear different areas of the house,” Barmore said. “They saw through the robot that he was pouring gasoline around his house. They were able to back off because of what they saw from the robot’s camera; if they had gone in it might have had a different outcome.”
The Robotex flagship tactical robot, the Avatar II, also has video capability. Speakman acknowledged that robots can be costly (and declined to offer specific dollar figures), but maintained that the robot can pay for itself relatively quickly in time and effort saved.
“It’s expensive, but it pays for itself,” Speakman said. “It saves a ton of money when it makes an operation move more quickly. It’s an investment.”
Other robotics and related vendors working in the law enforcement and public safety arenas include Florida-based Prioria Robotics, California-based camera and video technology provider Panoscan, Oklahoma firm ECA-SSI, and American Science and Engineering, a Massachusetts company creating high-tech inspections solutions.
Robotics is an area clearly affected by the onrush of new and improved technology, but other facets of protective and tactical operations also are affected that may be slightly less intuitive.
Recently, for example, a company devised a new kind of fabric that can help officers do their job not only more safely but more comfortably. The hybrid fabric originated with another segment of the law enforcement population.
“K-9 handlers were telling me the vests were too hot and heavy for the dogs,” said Linda Lazarowich, president of ProWearGear.com, Inc. based in Canada. “This reduces the vest from 12-15 pounds down to three pounds.”3
Lazarowich decided to adapt the technology for human use after she received feedback from police officers about their own comfort and safety.
“They showed me cuts and bruises they have to deal with on an ongoing basis. It’s in places like the arms, legs, and belly, and there’s no gear for it,” Lazarowich said. “People know where officers are vulnerable.”
As a result, Lazarowich has designed products for officers, which will hit the market later this year. The vests are made of a new fabric composite, created using a process recently patented by Lazarowich.
The new composite fabric, which Lazarowich is calling Armordillo, is lightweight and flexible, and can adjust easily to any body type. Along with the vest, Lazarowich is experimenting with other garments like neckwear for carotid artery protection, gauntlets, gaiters, and even T-shirts.
Armordillo garments are not bulletproof, but can ward off stabbings and similar attacks while fitting comfortably under regular clothing.
“You can tuck it in under your regular vest or Polo shirt, and it would weigh maybe three-quarters of a pound,” Lazarowich said. “It’s not a ballistic garment, but it’s puncture and slash resistant against things like knives and other sharp weapons like beer bottles. It’s 360-degree protection all the way around.”
Technology is weaving itself into other types of gear and equipment as well. California-based head protection company Schuberth North America now offers a flip-up, high-speed helmet with a built-in internal antenna. Florida company ArmourLite pioneered shatterproof, tritium-illuminated watches. Germany-based CeoTronics provides high-tech mobile radios and terminals.
Protective and tactical considerations are not always driven entirely be technology, however. Practical Defense Training Technologies, a training solutions provider based in California, is working to ensure that law enforcement training is as close to the real thing as possible. Practical Defense Training Technologies is a pioneer in what is referred to as reality-based training, which involves using simulated weapons and other items that are as close to real life as they can be. But the provider is also working to advance law enforcement know-how through good, old-fashioned relationship building and subject matter knowledge.
“We try to create an atmosphere of resource sharing,” said company President Gordon Potter. “For example, if an agency is struggling with scenario development in its training, we can help. We’re not taking over their training; we’re providing solutions.”4
Other companies offering tactical and protective training products and services include Minnesota firm Ballistic Rubber, Wisconsin firm Qualification Targets Incorporated, and Georgia-based live fire simulation training provider Meggitt Training Systems. ♦
1 Matthew Speakman, phone interview, May 30, 2013.
2 Aimee Barmore, phone interview, May 29, 2013.
3 Linda Lazarowich, phone interview, May 28, 2013.
4 Gordon Potter, phone interview, May 29, 2013.
Please cite as:
Scott Harris, "Products Old and New Help Protect Officers in Hostile Terrain," Product Feature, The Police Chief 80 (August 2013): 86–88.