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Columbus, Neb., PD Receive Grant Funding for Police Robot

During its regular meeting this week, the Columbus City Council gave the green light to accept a $65,720 grant from the Nebraska Crime Commission for the purchase of an Avatar III robot.

The Avatar III tactical robot.
The Avatar III tactical robot.
(TNS) — Columbus Police Department officials said they hope a new robot will help protect first responders in certain emergency situations.

During its regular meeting May 16, the Columbus City Council gave the greenlight to accept a $65,720 grant from the Nebraska Crime Commission for the purchase of an Avatar III robot. The funds are available from federal COVID dollars, and the grant will completely cover the cost of the robot.

Police Chief Charles Sherer told council members that the robot provides a unique opportunity for the CPD.

"Cpt. (Doug) Molczyk took it upon himself to write for this grant and it was approved," Sherer said. "This robot is really unique in the sense that it's got an articulating arm that can go out and it's got kind of a robotic hand that it can open doors and it can retrieve things. If we have situations where we have barricaded suspects or for some reason we can't go in or if there's a hazardous situation, we can send the robot in."

The robot will have a camera system to allow officers to see what's going on inside the barricaded area and an audio feature that will also allow them to communicate with people. The device can travel up and down stairs, Sherer added.

Molczyk told The Columbus Telegram on May 17 that he applied for the grant in October of last year.

"It's going to be utilized to minimize exposure of officers to hazardous situations such as the COVID virus or any other type of hazardous environment that officers may encounter," Molczyk added.

According to Sherer, there have been several situations in which a robot like this would have been useful.

"One of the things that we've got that comes to mind that we could have used it on was when an individual was barricaded in a basement and the ( Nebraska) State Patrol was present with their dog, prior to us having ours, and the patrol wouldn't send their dog down because they didn't know what the guy had downstairs, so the dog wouldn't be in danger," Sherer said.

If the CPD would have had a robot like the Avatar III, officers could have sent in the device in order to get a visual in the basement. They would have been able to determine if the person in question was armed and how well barricaded the area was, Sherer added.

"It's a lifesaving situation for us, it protects the lives of the officers from walking into a hazardous situation and it protects the lives of the fire department and EMS from going into a situation if it's hazardous. It even has the capability of putting a Geiger counter put on it," Sherer said.

When asked if officers would be trained with the robot, Sherer responded that civilians would be assigned to it, similar to how the CPD's drone program operates.

"We've got several people that are licensed and able to fly the drones, and the same thing would be true with the robot. There'll be various people trained with it," Sherer said.

"It's really a unique device and we're lucky to get it."

With the city council's approval of the grant, the CPD will be able to order the robot once the paperwork gets finalized. Molczyk said he did not an estimated date yet of when the department would receive the robot.

"The mayor, the city administrator and myself have to sign off on the grant and send the grant paperwork back within 30 days of the acceptance notification," Molczyk said.

According to a publicly-available memo, the robot would be paid for out of the city's general fund until the reimbursement arrives from the crime commission.

©2022 the Columbus Telegram , Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.