Coral Gables Cops Have Robot Friend and Other Fancy Gadgets

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).

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.