Cali. Cop's Invention Raises Bar for Crimefighters

Veteran Hawthorne police officer creates climbing tool

The officers call them "anti-personnel fences," and according to officer Rob Storey, they are becoming more and more common around Los Angeles, and more and more of a problem for law enforcement.

"It's a frustrating feeling. You know there is an assault or someone screaming for help and you are frustrated. It became a constant obstacle," said one officer.

It was January 2005, when a late night alarm call came in from Hawthorne High School -- a possible burglary. Hawthorne Police respond to the call but are stopped in their tracks by a familiar enemy: wrought iron.

"Wrought iron fences are virtually impossible to get over," said Storey.

Storey has been with Hawthorne PD since 1982. He has worked patrol. He did several years with the canine unit. He was even a part of Hawthorn's first Air Support Unit. He has returned to patrol and still enjoys police work.

"There are challenges still even after all this time. I still see things I have not seen before," he said.

After a long career in law enforcement, he can now add another job credit to his resume: inventor.

Storey's device is called Climb Assist. The purpose of this tool is to get officers over high and difficult fences, quickly and quietly.

Storey seems uncomfortable being called an inventor, although he does acknowledge he is mechanically inclined. When he first looked into developing Climb Assist, he started with Internet research. He thought a similar product had to be available.

"It's like the paperclip. It has to be out there. But, I couldn't find it. It didn't exist," he said.

Climb Assist is 55 inches long, designed to fit in the back of a patrol car. It is made of lightweight aluminum and weighs less than 16 pounds, making it portable. It hooks over the top of fences and locks into place.

NBC4 reporter Chris Schauble was quickly trained in the technique of using Climb Assist. It is recommended that you climb it sideways, using your outside foot for the first step.

"The officers stress a few key differences between Climb Assist and a regular ladder. Like a ladder with Climb Assist, you can get up, but if I was on a ladder, from this point, I would have to jump. That is difference No. 1. The other big difference is, once down, with the Climb Assist I can get back out," he said.

That is the signature feature of Climb Assist -- it's ability to be available on both sides of a wrought fence at the same time.

Officer David Gregor is Storey's partner on the streets and in business, and believes Climb Assist will be a real asset to patrol officers -- particularly at night when gates are locked and finding a manager or landlord could be a time consuming process.

"If someone is hurt or needs our help, we either cut the fence down or we wait for someone to bring us a key -- and in our job -- time is not on our side," Gregor said.

Gregor stresses that many of these wrought iron fences have spikes at the top, creating a real safety issue for officers.

"There are only two things you will leave on a fence like this without this tool and that is flesh and material," Gregor said.

With that in mind, Storey created a spike cap to go along with the Climb Assist. The spike cap is a PVC molded cap that can be placed over spikes, allowing officer to perch on top of the fence. Being securely atop the fence would also allow officers to pass equipment over, including K9s.

Storey and Gregor have begun marketing Climb Assist to a broader law enforcement audience. At a recent trade show, they were surrounded by flashier and more lethal products, but Climb Assist still made an impression with rank-and-file officers.

"That is actually something we could use, and we'll probably use quite a bit. Out of pretty much everything here today, that's what really caught our attention," said Phill Dupper of the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department.

Rob Storey believes the simplicity of Climb Assist is part of its appeal.

"Police have high-tech gadgets, but if you can't get to where you need to use them they do you no good," Storey said.

As of Tuesday, 70 different law enforcement agencies have purchased Climb Assist units, including the LAPD, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Storey is just few months from retirement. He will spend more time marketing and selling Climb Assist, but the ongoing work police officers will never be far from his mind.

"It's nice to know that I am leaving something behind that hopefully my fellow officers will find useful and keep them safer in doing their job and put some more bad guys in jail," Storey said.

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