High-tech surveillance gear to help quash drug cartels growing marijuana in forests will become part of the Sheriff's Department's arsenal after a divided county Board of Commissioners approved $810,726 in new equipment today.

High-tech surveillance gear to help quash drug cartels growing marijuana in forests will become part of the Sheriff's Department's arsenal after a divided county Board of Commissioners approved $810,726 in new equipment today.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour, who cast the only "no" vote, said, "800,000 — that's a lot of money."

He didn't object to the equipment requested by Sheriff Mike Winters but thought the county should apply for federal money to pay for it rather than dip into reserves.

The equipment, including infra-red detection mounted on a helicopter, will help protect deputies entering illegal marijuana gardens but also will assist them in finding fire hot spots and tracking cars in high-speed pursuits.

Winters said he looked into federal grants but was unsuccessful in getting the money that way.

The sheriff said his department has cut back millions of dollars over the past few years and is down 30 deputies.

He said the new gear, which includes bulletproof vests and Taser weapons, will help protect deputies and also will make them perform their duties more efficiently.

Commissioner Jack Walker said the protective gear and surveillance equipment will help save lives and help deal with the growing problem of drug cartels.

Commissioner C.W. Smith said the surveillance equipment will help in high-speed pursuits, allowing a helicopter to follow a car from a safe distance.

— Damian Mann