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Mahnomen high school students develop a 'Robocop' for local sheriff's department

The Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office is about to get a new tool that they say will save lives, including their own deputies.

High school students in Mahnomen developed this armored device, dubbed "Robocop" to help the local sheriff's office deal with distraught individuals. They will donate it in a few weeks.
Matt Henson / WDAY-TV
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MAHNOMEN, Minn. — It's not often you see a bunch of high school students playing with armored police equipment.

"It makes me proud watching it move," said sophomore Iyan Swenson.

That's because these students designed and put "robocop" together.

"Just to give back to the community," said senior Lukas Geray.

Last year, their usual robotics competitions were canceled due to COVID. That's when their teacher decided it was time to pull out a lesson plan he's been thinking about for more than a decade since the community lost one of its law enforcement officers.


"I've always had it in the back of my mind that if we could prevent that from ever happening again, we would try," said Scott McConkey, the automotive and robotics instructor at the school.

Back in February 2009, Mahnomen County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Dewey was shot while responding to a drunk driving call with shots fired.

He died a year later from his injuries.

"They have really stepped up and figured out how to make this work," mentioned McConkey.

The first design did not work out well. It was too big at 250 pounds and did not function properly.

The final version of "robocop," 150 pounds.

It will be donated to the Mahnomen County Sheriff's Office in a few weeks.

"It's fitting a niche that we hadn't thought of before," said Sheriff Josh Gunther.


Arctic Cat donated the traks for the device, which can travel on land, through wooded areas and even through snow.

The remote controlled device can travel up to 100 yards, and is equipped with lights and a camera phone that can see 75 yards.

On top is a blue tooth speaker that is connected to a cell phone on the device. That phone allows deputies to maintain a safe distance during a tense situation with someone.

"Having a bunch of cops come out who are probably armed is probably intimidating," explained Swenson.

The phone will also give police the flexibility to get a mental health expert on the phone. The closest robot like it is hours away in Fargo or Grand Forks.

Mahnomen County plans on lending "robocop" to other rural communities during a crisis.

"Some months we may not have a need for it, some months we may need it three, four times a month, a couple times a week," said Gunther.

Some high school students leaving a legacy.


They say if it saves one life, or prevents a disaster, the project has been well worth it.

"Every cop can have a chance of having that safety," said Swenson.

"Robocop" took first place in Minnesota in the Samsung "Solutions for Tomorrow" contest.

The school won $6,500 for shop supplies for future projects. They were also automatically entered into the national competition.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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