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Yellowstone County plans to upgrade security cameras

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Feb 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-15 10:26:45-05

BILLINGS — Safety is always top of mind of public officials, especially in schools and county buildings.

In an effort to enhance and improve security measures within Billings schools and the Yellowstone County courthouse, new cameras may soon be going up..

Yellowstone County commissioners outlined their support for an upgrade at the courthouse in a letter to the Montana DES Senior Advisory Committee to secure a grant.

Billings School District 2 also wants to apply for a State Homeland Security Program grant. Both want to replace surveillance cameras.

Security cameras have been positioned all around the courthouse building, but big upgrades could soon be coming in the form of a nearly $250,000 grant from the federal government, following several incidents nationwide.

"We've had threats to courthouses and judges and attorneys throughout the nation and that's ever-increasing," said K.C. Williams, Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services director. "And just the courthouse in itself is a public building with a lot of people coming and going."

Williams says potential violence, terrorism and election security concerns are all reasons the county is seeking upgraded technology tools that could assist law enforcement during a potential incident.

"The point is not to spy on people," Williams said. "The point is to have situational awareness of what's going on with the crowd so that we can make better decisions when we respond."

School District 2 will also apply for the state Homeland Security grant to replace cameras at Senior High School.

According to Williams, the Billings Police Department and the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office are applying for a grant for night-vision goggles.

It is assistance in technology that the country's Homeland Security Secretary said last month is much needed.

"Our Department of Homeland Security is fundamentally a department of partnerships to address the threat of domestic violent extremism or other forms of targeted violence," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said last month.

But the new cameras do come with some stipulations. Williams says the updated technology cannot be made in China.

"The fear is there's the possibility that they could access that remotely," Williams said. "If you eliminate using their products, you minimize the risk."

It will be several months before Yellowstone County and others learn whether they will receive the grants. But Williams is hopeful.

"Lots and lots of really good stuff coming out to help keep us prepared, safe and minimize some of the risks that we have," Williams said.

He said the county recently replaced cameras at MetraPark and will use the same type of camera at the courthouse.