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The Southwest

Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page A02

Ariz. Police Consider Primate Protege

Picture this SWAT team scenario: It's Day Two of a hostage crisis. The suspect hasn't made contact with authorities for hours. Police have no idea if he's awake, if his hostages are injured, or what kind of weapons he's carrying. How do they know what to do next?

By now you're surely thinking: Sounds like a job for a capuchin monkey.

At least that's the thought that occurred to an officer with the Mesa, Ariz., police department. Sean Truelove applied for a $100,000 federal grant last year that would allow his department to buy one of the tiny primates -- they weigh only about five pounds -- and train it to fight crime.

Capuchins, natives of the South American rain forests, have long been used as companions to disabled people, performing tasks such as opening doors, switching on lights and fetching items. Truelove reasoned that the monkeys could also be deployed for special-operations missions -- sneaking into crevices, unlocking doors, carrying video cameras to capture information. "It would change the way we do business," he told a local reporter.

News of Truelove's proposal hit the local East Valley Tribune last weekend, and the notion of the wee commando -- outfitted in an adorable little Kevlar vest and doll-size gloves -- immediately inspired reporters from across the country to call. The chief quickly denied that the department was seriously pursuing the proposal. And Truelove has no response from the feds.

"My biggest roadblock is all of the unknowns," he told the Tribune. "People don't like unknowns."

-- Amy Argetsinger


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