FARMINGTON Meet Woody.
Hes 6 years old, weighs 350 pounds and fights crime.
Hes called upon in the most dangerous of situations: violent standoffs, hazardous-materials spills and to examine suspicious packages.
Woody is a robot with the Farmington Police Department Bomb Squad, an FBI-certified team that covers about a 100-mile radius, including Southwest Colorado. Recently, he got a partner named Johnny.
Woodys been used on several occasions in the region, including last year to open a suspicious package placed outside a chemical storage room at the Bayfield Water Treatment Plant.
The suspicious package really an ice cooler contained nothing more than 12 pounds of freshly caught pike. But the unattended cooler next to a chemical storage area gave law enforcement reason to be concerned.
Woody opened the cooler and peeked inside while law enforcement stood at a safe distance.
If it had been something that went off, you would have had a pretty serious situation, said Officer Stephen Smith, lead bomb technician with the Farmington Bomb Squad. If we lose a piece of Woody, its a lot better than losing a piece of a bomb technician.
The robots are controlled remotely by knobs, buttons and joysticks. It takes many hours of training to learn how to operate the machines, Smith said.
Officers who grew up playing video games tend to have more finesse with the movements, he said.
This year, the Farmington Bomb Squad competed in a robot rodeo in which bomb squads from across the country compete in a variety of activities to demonstrate their control skills.
One of the events required controllers to make pancakes with the robot. They had to mix the batter, pour it on a grill, flip the pancake and serve it to a judge who tasted it.
It was the first year the Farmington Bomb Squad participated, and the team came in second to last. But it was a good learning experience, Smith said.
The Farmington Police Department purchased Woody in 2005 for $170,000 using Homeland Security funding. With some upgrades, his current estimated cost is $200,000.
The robot has two tracks for feet, an arm-like claw, a gun and a small cannon that fire pepper spray, electrical charges, bean-bag rounds and jets of water that can bust apart suitcases.
The robot is not used to fire lethal rounds at suspects.
It has several cameras, a microphone and a loud speaker that allows law enforcement to communicate with suspects in a stand-off or a hostage situation.
Woody can go up and down stairs and is skinny enough to fit down the aisle of an airplane.
Hes a tool; we use him for whatever we need him for, Smith said. Hes always performed good.
He was used last year when a robbery suspect barricaded himself inside a Montezuma County home. A standoff ensued, and law enforcement surrounded the home. During the middle of the night, the suspect fired shots and hit one deputy in the forearm.
After several hours of no movement inside the home, Woody was sent inside carrying a phone to communicate with the suspect.
The robots cameras allowed officers to see the suspect on a bed, lying dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Smith said.
The Farmington Bomb Squad purchased a second robot in November. The $165,000 machine is smaller, faster and more versatile than Woody.
Both have their particular specialities, Smith said.
The new robot, named Johnny, has specialized tools that can perform various functions such as cutting open backpacks or removing an explosive vest.
One advantage with Johnny is he has two arms a weapons arm and a claw arm, Smith said. So were able to perform dual functions without having to bring him out and rearm him. We can send him in with more options.
There are 646 certified bomb squads in the United States, all of which are required to have a robot, Smith said. Within a couple years, all certified bomb squads will be required to have two robots, and Johnny and Woody will fulfill that requirement, he said.
The Four Corners may not be a high-risk target for terrorism, Smith said, but it is rich in natural gas, and if they shut down the natural gas, California is going to be affected.
The two power plants in northwest New Mexico also are potential terrorist targets, he said.
Woody has handled illegal pipe bombs in the region, but he has never been damaged by an explosive.
Woody has tiny eight-ball symbols on the valve stems of his four tires.
The eight ball is a symbol on almost every piece of equipment belonging to the Farmington Bomb Squad.
The eight ball is the winner or loser of a game, Smith said. It just provides a reminder to the guys to keep their heads straight.
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