MARIETTA — Out at the Cobb County Public Safety training center, down a winding driveway off of County Services Parkway, Sheriff Craig Owens and his top brass gathered Thursday to hear a sales pitch for a new device.
It’s a simple looking piece of equipment, a pliable plastic sheet criss-crossed with white lines, with a computer chip on one side encased in plastic. According to John Bohlke, director of product development for Select Engineering Services, it could transform officer safety for Owens and his deputies.
It’s an Automatic Injury Detection (AID) device, a thin, lightweight insert which slips inside the outer layer of a bullet-proof vest. In theory, the officer shouldn’t notice it while they wear it. But if the plastic is pierced, stabbed, shot, torn, or ripped, the AID sends out an emergency signal within seconds to dispatch. What’s more, it will specify the officer’s location, where on the body the injury was sustained, and the officer’s blood type.
“Even if the vest stops the bullet, you want help. You need help,” Bohlke said. “You may need medical attention for the officer, (and) also important is getting to that attacker as soon as possible and stopping the threat.”
Bohlke said he’s tested the device with soldiers at Fort Benning, and can vouch that it’s waterproof and operates within extreme temperatures. The transmitter battery, meanwhile, can hold a charge for up to a year.
After a question and answer session from the roughly two dozen officers gathered around Bohlke, all that was left to do was test it. The group tromped out to the gun range, where the AID was put inside a vest and slung over a target. Bohlke, meanwhile, took down cell phone numbers to add to the notification system.
Deputy Brock Daniel then fired a round into the vest. Sure enough, within seconds, a chorus of text message notifications sounded across the range.
“Automated Message: Lt. Dan, Badge#1475 has been injured: Chest,” the message read, followed by a Google Maps link.
The deputies nodded their approval, until one piped up with a question: “What about a taser?” Bohlke was stumped. It hadn’t been tested before. As he and the officers debated whether the fine, sharp prongs would be large enough to activate the sensor, or whether the electrical current would short out the transmitter, a deputy suggested they do an on-the-spot trial.
With a touch of reluctance, Bohlke said to go ahead. Daniel leveled the taser at the vest, and discharged it. And once again, the AID worked, and Owens gave it his stamp of approval.
“I think this gives us another added safety measure for people, whether they’re out on field ops or inside the facility,” Owens said. “So we’re definitely going to look at this a lot more. I was impressed with what I saw today.”
Owens said he’s discussed the device with other law enforcement agencies across the country who use the AID, and likes what he’s hearing. Were Owens to purchase the vests — which run about $400 per officer — the Cobb Sheriff’s office would be the first jurisdiction in Georgia to use them.
The sheriff plans to purchase a handful of the devices for testing purposes, and then look into proposing a purchase for all his deputies to the Board of Commissioners.
“The safety of my men and women is the most important thing that I can possibly do … So I’ll go ask for money if I have to,” Owens said.