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Bozeman Police, Fire Departments Mulling Drone Purchase

A drone with a camera mounted on it.

A private donor is offering to help the Bozeman police and fire departments buy a drone to use for investigations, search and rescue, and crisis situations. The departments would not need approval from city commissioners, but say they are interested in public feedback.

The city’s police chief Steve Crawford says when paired with an infrared camera, a drone can make police work safer and faster. He says when he received the offer from a private donor...

“That caused us to take a look at it and what kind of public safety gap it would address for us and how it would improve our ability to respond to these emergencies, document our crime scenes, document our crashes and locate missing people.”

Crawford spoke at a public meeting Tuesday night at the Bozeman Public Library, attended by three people.

Over 900 public safety agencies across 49 states had drones last year. In Montana, they’re currently being used by the Great Falls Police Department and Montana Highway Patrol.

Crawford says there have been some recent incidents where his department would have used a drone if it had already had one.

“So we had a robbery, and the suspect fled out the back of that business. And behind there is a big wetland, and we had to search that area on foot because we didn’t know if he had or had not run into that area,” he says.

Bozeman Fire Chief Josh Waldo gave several examples of how his department would use a drone, including a derailed train car that’s leaking an unidentified liquid.

“If we wanted to do a quick recon[naissance], we could launch something like this, go out, see exactly what car’s leaking. The optics on these things are amazing to the point we could even get the placarde= numbers that tells us what’s in that container so we could build a plan before ever putting a person in there until we were ready,” he says.

Police Chief Crawford says the drone would not be used for surveillance and would follow Montana’s drone code.

He says he received overwhelming support from the public for a departmental drone when he shared the idea during a community event last month. Public comment has been more mixed on the Bozeman Police Department’s Facebook page, where people have shared concerns about surveillance.

Fire Chief Waldo says the departments don’t have a timeline for making a decision on the drone purchase and encourage people to call or email their questions and comments.

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