SANFORD — The SWAT Bot slowly made its way across the parking lot, members of a special response team in helmets and camouflage gear safe behind it, but at the ready. They could see the “bad guy” in this made-for-media scenario, and were able to make it clear that he should surrender. They took him down safely and efficiently, the SWAT Bot providing a protective shield.

Members of the Southern Maine Special Response team ”“ which includes police officers from Sanford, North Berwick, South Berwick, Eliot, Kittery, Kennebunk, York and York County Sheriff’s Office  ”“ have used the SWAT Bot, manufactured by Howe and Howe Technologies of Waterboro, in training scenarios. It was rolled out publicly Thursday, and officers say it is a tool that could make their work safer.

“In the right situation it is invaluable,” said Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly. “I bet the FBI would look at this for their hostage rescue team. It has a lot of potential.”

Southern Maine SRT medic Carl French agreed.

“If someone was down in the open and injured, we (currently) don’t have the opportunity to go in safely,” said French.

A SWAT Bot would provide safe cover, he said.

Brothers Mike and Geoff Howe, owners of Howe and Howe Technologies, said the SWAT Bot keeps SWAT teams and other first responders safe while approaching buildings during potentially dangerous standoffs or confronting armed suspects. It can also shield police and the public from explosive devices, like the ones set off Monday during the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 170.

In fact, Howe and Howe Technologies was set to roll out the SWAT Bot with Massachusetts State Police this week ”“ but the Monday bombings in Boston and subsequent search for the bombers meant a change of plan. The Southern Maine SRT had trained with the SWAT Bot, and so arrangements were made to introduce the vehicle with them instead.

The SWAT Bot is versatile and can be operated with remote control, or not. A number of tools can be attached ”“ tools that can bust down a door, pierce a tire, or deliver an object to a hostage taker, and more, like bomb detonation, said Geoff Howe.

Sanford Police Sgt. Jason Champlin, also a member of the SRT team, said these days when officers need to breach a door, they have to get in close, use a battering ram and then get out of the way in case there’s a shooter behind the door. The SWAT Bot’s ability to get up close provides a safer scenario, he pointed out.

Police have been known to use robots with articulated arms to lift police shields in front of windows of houses to shield officers from gunshots fired from inside the home, Corey Luby, of the National Tactical Officers Association, a Doylestown, Pa. organization representing patrol and special operations officers told the Associated Press. Police also use armored vehicles as shields to get close when hostages are being held or a suspect is barricaded inside a structure, he said.

But SWAT Bot is the first robotic device Luby has seen that’s designed specifically for ballistic shield purposes.

“It’s another life-saving tool,” Luby said. “I’d rather see a robot get hurt than a person.”

The Howe brothers say they’re looking for help from the federal government to manufacture the SWAT Bot, which they first developed for the military. Its price tag is about $95,000.

Mike Howe said besides the emotional toll, there’s a financial toll to communities when police officers get hurt on the job ”“ far more than the cost of the SWAT Bot, he said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report. Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, Ext. 327 or [email protected].

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