The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office has upgraded its bomb squad with the addition of a new explosive ordnance disposal robot.
On Wednesday, the department rolled out the Icor MK3 Caliber, a device that can examine, move or help defuse explosives without putting deputies at risk.
Sgt. Justin Ward, who has been supervisor of the sheriff’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, aka the Metro Bomb Squad, for the past two years, said the new robot is an upgrade from the one his department has used for the past six years.
It has two arms that can deploy claws for picking up and moving threatening items. Six cameras include front and rear cameras, plus cameras on the mast and on each arm. Specialized cameras can use thermal imaging or X-ray devices.
On Wednesday, he demonstrated a brass claw that picked up a dummy pipe bomb as Ward stood nearby to operate the device with a handheld remote controller. He ordinarily would work from a computer inside the bomb squad’s van, which enables the squad to keep all officers out of danger.
Ward said that it’s just one feature of the new robot, which has been used in training and will go out on calls starting this week.
“I have a multitude of different attachments: window breakers, tire punch, seat belt cutters. You pretty much name it, we have some kind of attachment for it. We can open house doors, car doors, trunks,” he said.
A weapons platform, capable of deploying firearm barrels, can also be attached. Ward noted that those could be loaded with charges specifically designed to open suspicious packages.
The robot runs on rubber tracks and is capable of climbing stairs, and it can grab and pull anything weighing up to 280 pounds, be it a suspicious-looking backpack or an injured or unconscious person.
Ward said that the Metro Bomb Squad is called out every few weeks, and each call is different.
“In my 12 years (with the squad), we’ve run the gamut,” he said. “The previous robot, we moved everything from pipe bombs, backpacks, suspicious packages. We’ve moved military ordnance with it.”
He noted that the department will keep both robots. The older model, which the department has had for six years, is capable of fitting in narrower spaces than the new one.
Also on Wednesday, deputy Jeff Rodrigues demonstrated the newest addition to the department’s drone collection, the Matrice quadcopter. It’s one of nine drones that deputies can use to search for people. The latest episode was a hunt for a missing person on the Stanislaus River near Escalon. He was eventually found safe.
“The rivers are running real high right now. We just used it on Monday for a lost rafter. We’ve used it for suspects, foot bailing from houses, cars,” Rodrigues said.
He noted that the department has used drones about 50 times in the past two months.
“I carry with me in the car on day shift,” he said, adding that other deputies were trained and licensed to operate the department’s nine drones as well.