Deep in the caves of Afghanistan, soldiers use hidden robots the size of children to detect enemy movement. The rolling hunks of metal have less personality than a garbage can -- you won't find them drinking beer with George Jetson -- but in the realm of high-tech battlefield tools, they are quite useful.
Coral Gables Police recently welcomed a nearly identical, $16,420 automaton into their tidy suburban offices. Dubbed a "robotic remote reconnaissance system," it's one of a treasure chest full of cop toys the department recently bought with the city's Fortified Asset Fund, a slush fund that comes from the pockets of the very people they bust.
It works like this: When officers swoop down on a mammoth marijuana grow house or a Mafioso's mansion, they seize the fancy things: BMWs, diamond watches, expensive art. The goods are then auctioned off, and a chunk of the cash is supposed to go back to the city for improvements.
In a four-month span last spring, however, the department spent more than $52,000 of the public money on the following:
1. A battery-powered scooter that looks like Vespa's fat plastic cousin and is fit for a granny in a supermarket ($12,420).
2. Military-grade night vision goggles -- the kind you'd find in the hands of a Green Beret -- along with mounts for sniper rifles ($23,600).
3. Mr. Robot Guy, which we'd like to name Juan Pedro Garcia for no particular reason ($16,420).
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Justin Prisendorf, publisher of the Coral Gables Gazette, finds the whole thing absurd. "This is all about ego," he says. "It's boys with their toys, saying, 'Let's get a stun gun! We want the best!' " When it comes to the fund, there is little oversight.
Riptide was curious about the gadgets (plus we wanted to interview a robot!), so we called Coral Gables Police spokeswoman Janette Frevola. But to find out how the department uses the new-fangled devices, she told us, we would have to pay her.
Sadly, Juan Pedro couldn't be reached for comment. He must have been out patrolling the treacherous Gables mountainside.