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Billings police granted money to buy van for de-escalating crises, hostage situations

Billings police granted money to buy van for de-escalating crises, hostage situations

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The Billings Police Department has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to purchase a hostage negotiation van.

About $85,000 will go toward purchasing a van and outfitting it with electronic communications equipment used by hostage negotiators trained to de-escalate certain hostage situations or other crisis situations, according to Lt. Brandon Wooley.

The purchase of the van will go before the Billings City Council and go through a bid process, which may take some time.

Right now, hostage negotiators work in a mobile trailer, which has little insulation and uses noisy generators to power equipment. Crews could use the new van to establish communication with others in a quiet environment. It’s something the department has been looking at buying for a few years now.

“All of their tools will be there at their fingertips in one spot,” he said.

The State Homeland Security Program Grant was also funded by the Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Grant Programs Directorate.

Grants from this program have also donated money to the department’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal squad and for the purchase of the armored BEAR vehicle.

While hostage situations don't happen often in Billings, the hostage negotiation team also responds to suicide threats, people who have barricaded themselves in somewhere and others who are in crisis, said Sgt. Clyde Reid, who acts as the team's supervisor.

These negotiators also hold daily jobs as detectives or police officers but have gone through specific training. About four negotiators are needed to handle crisis situations, and Billings' team has eight.

The van will be outfitted with a loudspeaker system, phone system, generators to continuously charge the equipment, computer stations, heating and cooling, and more. Right now, equipment needs to be charged indoors and moved into the trailer.

“All they have to do is start up the van and we’re good to go,” Reid said.

Reid projects that about $40,000 will go into purchasing an E350 1-ton van, while about $45,000 will be used to outfit the van with equipment. The department also will launch a bid process to find a company that specializes in vehicles like ambulances and SWAT trucks.

A few examples of when a van would have been helpful, according to Reid, include the standoff at the Big Bear Sports Center in 2017 and the four-hour standoff earlier this month in a Billings trailer park.

“We’re the largest city in Montana, so we probably need to step it up and keep up with the technology of the day,” Reid said.

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