- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

DICKINSON, Texas (AP) - Officer Shepherd is not quite like the other police officers in the Dickinson Police Department.

Riding around in a tiny remote-control police car, Officer G. German Shepherd, as he is affectionately known, is a animatronic robot dog that speaks, moves and even shoots water from a small spout.

The Galveston County Daily News (https://bit.ly/2genJdF ) reports simply put, he’s a big hit with the kids.

“When we go talk to kids, the kids that wouldn’t normally come up and talk to us, it helps take down that wall,” police Chief Ron Morales said.

Officer Shepherd is the result of years of work and a lot of fundraising.

Morales first found out about the robotic dog at a police conference about five years ago, he said.

“I first saw it and thought ‘how much is that?’” Morales said. “When I found out, I said ‘that’s insane.’”

A representative from Robotronics - the company based in Utah that makes the robot - broke down the various parts associated with the total cost of $12,500, and Morales began to understand, he said.

But plans only got underway for Dickinson’s acquisition about 18 months ago.

To help raise the money to purchase Officer Shepherd, the police department turned to several donors - most importantly the Dickinson Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association. All told, $11,500 was secured through fundraising.

“It’s wonderful,” Morales said. “I have about 10 to 15 people in this town who are upset with me if we need something and I don’t come to them.”

The city gave the remaining $1,000.

Officer Shepherd has joined the community policing division after arriving in Dickinson about a month ago.

He was shipped in two giant boxes and came complete with a Dickinson police uniform and the actual department patches. Shepherd’s model of robot is based on the old McGruff the Crime Dog, the cartoon spokes-dog in an anti-crime campaign.

Tony Valdez has been part of a two-man team that operates the robot when police visit area elementary schools and day care centers.

Using a voice modulator, he is able to speak to the kids as Officer Shepherd.

“As soon as we put him on the ground, all the attention is on him,” Valdez said. “He’s a good tool for talking to the kids. They’re focused and they will listen.”

Often, the kids are so focused on the robot that they don’t even notice Valdez in the corner, speaking through a microphone.

The community policing and crime prevention unit has existed for about 15 years, Valdez said.

Its goal is to try to reduce future incidents of crime by visiting and creating bonds with the local youth.

Officer Shepherd works as part of a rotating lunch program in which officers visit each elementary school and day care center once each school year.

As far as Morales and Valdez know, Dickinson is unique in having something like Officer Shepherd to help communicate with the kids.

“I think Pasadena might have one?” Valdez said. “But no other police department in Galveston County.”

With three visits under its belt, Morales is confident Shepherd was a wise investment.

“When we first got it, we had five or six people call and say they had to have something like it,” he said. “When they found out how much it cost, it turned everyone off. And I understand that. But they don’t get to see the reaction in the eyes of those kids, and even the adults.”


Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, https://www.galvnews.com

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