Image: Casey Page, Gazette Staff

“It’s a really good tool, and it’s an officer safety thing,” said Lt. Vince Wallis.

It’s the kind of equipment you’d expect to see in a high-tech spy film: an officer points a cameralike device and, either through a viewfinder or on an onboard computer screen, a clear, detailed image of the area pops up.

But instead of the colors normally seen, the image is in blacks, whites and grays. The warmer an object is, the brighter it gets, standing out against everything around it, even in pitch-black conditions, but with enough detail to make out features on someone’s face or the undercarriage of a car.

Using money in 2010 from a $197,000 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant, the sheriff’s office purchased eight Flir brand handheld thermal-imaging units — costing $5,000 apiece — and 42 Noptic units at $4,200 each for every patrol car. The Noptic cameras are mounted on a spotlight on the driver’s side, can rotate 360 degrees and send a live video feed to the vehicle’s onboard computer.

Source: Zach Benoit for Billings Gazette.

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Image: Casey Page, Gazette Staff "It's a really good tool, and it's an officer…