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St. Louis police to get new "Armadillo" tool for targeting problem properties

(photo courtesy of the Peoria (Ill.) police department)
The St. Louis Police Department will soon have at its disposal an "Armadillo." Like the one from the Peoria police department pictured here, the St. Louis Armadillo will be bullet-proof, graffiti-proof and outfitted with 360-degree surveillance.

This fall, the St. Louis police department will be getting help conducting surveillance on problem properties from an armadillo.

No, not the hard-shelled mammals you see scattered on highways in the Southwest.

This Armadillo is a former armored car that's been made bulletproof, given a graffiti-resistant paint job, and outfitted with 360-degree surveillance.

The police department purchased the truck from Brinks Armored Car for $10. The St. Louis Police Foundation is donating the money to retrofit the vehicle and get it ready for deployment. The Board of Police Commissioners voted on Wednesday to accept those donations.

The Armadillo is designed to be parked for days in front of a problem property, explains Capt. Joseph Spiess, the commander of the 7th District. And it's not meant to be sneaky.

"We want them to know that we're there," Spiess said. "The goal here is that they know we're here, that we're watching and we're taping their nuisance behavior whatever that is. It's also applicable that we have large crows that gather, anywhere they we have the potential for problems in the area. For us, in the 7th Dsitrict, it may be the Loop area."

The city of Peoria was one of the first to deploy an Armadillo. Officials there say calls for service to properties drop dramatically after the vehicle is deployed.

Spiess says some of that may be attributed to troublemakers moving elsewhere.

"But through our problem property process, we identify owners and occupants of dwellings that have caused prior problems, and they're tracked by our problem property officers," he said. "So to some degree, yes, you are going to move them, but hopefully the problem property process catches up with them."

Spiess says the department's first Armadillo should be deployed later this fall, and that work is already underway to get a second one. Though 7th District officers spearheaded the project in the city, Spiess said he'll deploy the 'Dillo wherever he's ordered.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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