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Charleston police to buy robot

By Matt Murphy, Local government writer

The newest addition to the Charleston police force will have a serial number instead of a badge number.

City council members unanimously approved the purchase of a more-than $35,000 robot Tuesday night.

The robot does not have the ability to fire any weapons but will be able to perform tasks like opening doors to assess a situation, Chief Brent Webster said.

“We’ve been wanting this for over a year,” he said.

The robot will cost $35,692.64 and will be from North Carolina-based SuperDroid Robots Inc.

It is similar to one owned by the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office and is being paid for with the city’s 2012 Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant. The city police department sometimes borrows the sheriff’s robot, Webster said.

Webster said the robot will improve the department’s ability to assess situations and ensure the safety of officers and civilians. He cited the August 2013 incident in South Hills involving attorney Mark Bramble, where Bramble fired shots in his home in Sherwood Forest subdivision.

“There was a period of time when all the shooting stopped and we didn’t know what to do,” Webster said.

The situation was eventually resolved peacefully, though Bramble suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“This is mostly designed to keep us from having to push the fight,” Webster said.

Council approved the purchase unanimously.

In other business, council:

n Passed a law that subjects buildings designated as “historic” in Charleston to a temporary stay of demolition.

The new law delays the destruction of historic properties in the city for no more than 135 days after a demolition permit is requested and would apply to properties in historic districts and to individual properties deemed historical by national or city databases.

The delay is meant to allow an alternate use for the building.

The Charleston Historic Landmarks Commission, a citizen board, will review requests for demolition permits.

The commission must hold a public hearing for the permit within 45 days of the initial request.

After the hearing, the commission has the ability to delay the demolition of the structure for up to 90 days, during which time the city or the public could offer alternative uses for the building.

After the delay, the building may be demolished.

Alternatively, if the commission determines the building “is well beyond rehabilitation or that the public’s interest clearly outweighs its preservation or rehabilitation,” it can approve the permit without a public hearing.

The bill passed council unanimously. It had previously been approved by the Strong Neighborhoods Task Force, the Municipal Planning Commission and council’s Planning Committee.

Council also:

n Set trick-or-treat for 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 30.

n Approved spending $99,800 to build a retaining wall on Buena Vista Drive following a water main break. West Virginia American Water will fully reimburse the city.

n Approved the purchase of pumps and materials for the Virginia Street underpass on the West Side at a cost of $64,100. The existing pumps failed during a recent rainstorm, causing flooding.

The city’s Fire Station No. 2 is located near the underpass.

n Approved $56,000 for renovations to the Metro Drug Enforcement property. Tom Grishaber Builders was selected to do the work.

n Paid $28,500 for a vehicle for Metro Drug Enforcement. The vehicle will be titled to St. Albans.


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