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Does Richmond Have a Police Robot Like the One Used in Dallas? 

click to enlarge "Thin Blue Line," by Michael Stutz, Richmond Police Department headquarters.

Scott Elmquist

"Thin Blue Line," by Michael Stutz, Richmond Police Department headquarters.

After sniper Micah Johnson’s attack on police last week, the Dallas Police Department’s dramatic use of an explosives-disposal robot to deliver a bomb that killed him has captured imaginations across the country.

Could such a device be used against such threats locally? Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley isn’t so sure. The department has a robot, he says, “but it may not be as sophisticated as what the Dallas PD has.”

Lepley downplays the Richmond department’s ability to use military equipment in law enforcement.

Ordinance disposal gear came into heavy use during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in 2014, the Department of Homeland Security awarded $1.6 billion in grant money for state and local law enforcement agencies to help with border security and counterterrorism. Some of that involved the transfer of surplus military equipment such as armored vehicles and other items.

About that time, the Chesterfield County Police Department obtained Stingrays, which are military-style electronic devices that trick cell phones into thinking they’re pinging cell phone towers. This allows police to track calls or send signals as someone else.

There were calls in the General Assembly to pass measures that would address privacy issues surrounding such devices. Chesterfield has said that it uses the devices only with search warrants.

Richmond doesn’t use the devices, and Lepley says it hasn’t obtained much in the way of surplus military gear other than a 1990s pickup truck that it uses at a shooting range in Caroline County. The department does have an armored car.

Since the July 7 attack in Dallas, Black Lives Matter demonstrations have continued throughout the country, resulting in hundreds of arrests. The protests have followed last week’s shootings of black men by police in Minnesota and Louisiana.

The slayings of five officers in Dallas and the wounding of other people by Johnson, an Army veteran, followed those incidents.

Lepley says that things have been quiet in Richmond, but that the city’s 911 emergency response center received a cellphone threat Saturday. Police traced the call and contacted the owner who said he’d loaned his phone to a man he didn’t know.

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