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Police in Billings launch a new drone program



Billings, Montana – A new drone program was launched by the Billings Police Department to record crime scenes and aid in officer safety. The employment of drones in search and rescue operations is also possible.

According to Lt. Shane Shelden, they purchased three Mavic 3 drones and two Avata drones with money from cocaine forfeiture last November. Regular and thermal photographs are both available from the Mavic 3 drones. The Avata drones perform admirably inside structures.

Lt. Shelden gave the following account of a recent incident in which drones were deployed to support officer safety:

“The other night, we had a guy that was sitting in his vehicle,” Lt. Shelden said. “He had fired off some rounds at a place here in town up in the Heights. He had driven away, parked his vehicle, and was remaining in his vehicle. The officers found him and matched the description (the vehicle and everything). He’s in his vehicle. Won’t get out. We’re able to fly the drone up to see if there’s anybody else in the vehicle. So, we can eliminate, ‘Okay, there’s not more than one person in there.’ We can kind of see what he’s doing. Those types of things. It’s an officer-safety issue.”

Another illustration of how drones can be used for safety was provided by Lt. Shelden:

“If we have a barricaded subject, for example. As long as we can gain access to the building, we can potentially use the drone to fly in, and search areas, before we send officers in. Provides us information for officer safety reasons.”

The only members of the department that are currently certified to use drones are Lt. Shelden and Lt. Wooley. The training for five additional policemen will start on Wednesday, February 8.

It’s crucial to clarify what the drones won’t be used for, according to Lt. Shelden.

“So people know, we are regulated by state law as far as search and seizure,” he said. “We’re not allowed to just fly them over people’s houses and watch people and such. Anytime we want to use any information in court, it has to meet the search warrant requirements mandated by the state.”


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