BILLINGS — The Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office unveiled a new incident response vehicle Wednesday worth about $437,000 and paid for with grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“We can use it for almost anything," said Shane Bandroft, a detective at the sheriff's office. "From major crime scenes to search and rescue missions, to dignitary protection, anything we might need. It’s also available to anyone in eastern Montana as they might need it.".
The agency's new 2020 Freightliner MT-55 van is outfitted with the latest in law enforcement technology, including an elevated camera, radio and internet communications and the space inside to interview witnesses and process evidence.
"This is mobile. We can use it wherever we need it. It’s set up with communications, computer networking, just about anything we need if we need to have it out on a scene. It’s basically an office that’s self-contained and mobile," said Sheriff Mike Linder.
Before the new vehicle, the sheriff's office was operating out of a converted bread truck made in 1995. The old truck had the cab separated from the rest of the vehicle with a roll-up back door. Linder said there was only room to transport necessary equipment and not much more.
“The old van, there was room to keep some equipment in it and keep some documentation and that type of stuff, but barely enough room for all of that and two people to stand in it. It’s old, it’s got a lot of miles on it. It was reliable, but with this here we can do interviews in this vehicle, we can do evidence collection and processing in the vehicle," Linder said.
Linder said the old van is still going to be in service to the department. It will help pick up the slack if the new van is on loan to another law enforcement agency for an incident elsewhere across eastern Montana.
"It’s also available to anyone in eastern Montana as they might need it. We understand that a lot of the smaller counties don't have the same resources or equipment that we have and we’re always willing to help out," Bancroft said.
The vast majority of the new vehicle was paid for with a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security administered by Montana Disaster and Emergency Services.
“We have a little bit of money into some of the equipment inside of it and the graphics. We had that done here locally. But as far as the vehicle itself and the high-end electronics, networking, that was all part of the grant," Linder said.
Linder said the grant writing started two years ago, but the need for a new vehicle stretches back five years. Bancroft and Detective Sgt. Frank Fritz were tasked with hiring a grant writer and working with the vehicle manufacturer to specify its features and technology.
“We hired a grant writer, but we worked hand in hand with them. They gave us a list of responsibilities and things to secure information that they needed," Bancroft said.
The new vehicle will be able to accept new equipment as technology advances. It even has a small bathroom to alleviate the challenge of finding one in a rural area.
“When you’re out in the county in the middle of nowhere and you need to use the restroom, basically what we had to do is shut the scene down, take somebody into town, find a gas station to use the facilities and come back out and start up again. It just makes everything a lot more time consuming," Fritz said.
The agency can spend between 12 and 24 hours investigating an incident. Bancroft said the new vehicle is "almost a necessity."