SAN JUAN — The San Juan Police Department has added a robot named Raven to its crime fighting arsenal.
Raven was purchased in early November at a cost of $27,000, paid for with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, said San Juan police Chief Juan Gonzalez.
“Raven is a great asset to our department,” Gonzalez said, referring to the black, shin-high, tank-like robot designed to enter hard-to-reach places. “He is equipped with a set of cameras, infrared cameras and audio equipment that gives us eyes and ears in difficult situations such as a hostage situation.”
While Raven has already been used to gather intelligence in a drug raid last month, San Juan police got a chance to fully interact with the robot in the days before Thanksgiving when the department ran a series of exercises to test the capabilities of Raven and of the Law Enforcement Emergency Regional Response Team, or LEERRT — the regional SWAT team based in San Juan.
For the training, police gathered at the old Cinemark theater in the now-defunct El Centro Mall to conduct a series of scenarios inside the vacant business.
Inside one of the screening rooms, three police officers in plainclothes played the role of barricaded criminals as they held a small group of hostages and dummies at bay inside the room.
“We’re ready to die and take all these people with us,” one of the criminals yelled out as he waved a gun in the air.
Members of the LEERRT team split into groups and lined up outside the theater’s exits waiting for their signal to go in.
One of the officers wearing full body armor and a face mask walked up to the door and took off a large backpack, which appeared to come to life.
Raven unrolled its treads and zipped into the dark theater, making a soft whirring noise as it rolled through the hallways looking for the room with the barricaded suspects. Even though the hallways were dark, Gonzalez and his team were able to see clearly because of a set of infrared cameras that the robot has which allowed them to navigate.
“I want a million dollars and a car,” one of the criminals could be heard screaming through a speaker in Raven’s remote control.
The robot rolled around the room, giving LEERRT members outside a location of the gunmen, the kind of weapons they had and the approximate location of the hostages.
When the order was given for the team to move in, Raven backed up into a wall, blending into the darkness while the tactical team broke the door down, rescued the hostages and arrested the suspects.
“The Colorado shooting showed us that a situation with mass casualties can happen anywhere,” Gonzalez said referring to the Aurora, Colo., shooting where a lone gunman opened fire at the audience inside a packed theater in July 2012, killing 12 and injuring many others. “We have to be ready for anything, and Raven gives us a set of eyes right there where we need them to be able to see the situation as it develops and take the actions needed.”