New Sheriff's Office radios discussed

Commissioners looking for funding sources, debate need

Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
POSTED: 12:46 PM MDT Jul 22, 2013    UPDATED: 09:34 PM MST Jan 15, 2014 
EL PASO, Texas -

The debate tied to a new $10.3 million sheriff’s radio system flared in county commissioner’s court, Monday.

The county has $4.5 million slated for the project. He’s asking for an additional $5.8 million. That money would pay for a year-long implementation of new P25 radios from Motorola and an interlocal agreement with the city of El Paso, which is also looking at a move to P25 radios.

The sheriff has spoken at great length that he considers the radios his deputies are currently using as a safety concern. Right now, they’re using analog radios with patches that allow them to meet federal mandates that were enacted in January. According to Sheriff Richard Wiles, there are numerous dead spots in the county that have created a safety concern for his deputies on a daily basis.

Commissioner Carlos Leon, a former city of El Paso police chief, said he had concerns with the current system.

“It’d be foolish for the county to go in that (staying analog) direction,” said Leon.

The discussion shifted from cost to safety, something El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar had tried to avoid by opening the agenda item with a statement that everyone on the court supported safety.

Commissioner Sergio Lewis seemed to spark a debate when he said, “Ladies and gentleman are we going to minimize public safety, or do we do the right thing?”

Lewis later stated that he is concerned about the budget too.

Commissioner Vince Perez spent more than 30 minutes discussing alternatives he’d come up with over the weekend. It's not known whether any of the alternatives would save the county millions, but he questioned why none had been offered after previous meetings he’d held with the sheriff.

Perez even brought up DEA forfeiture money the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office received. Legally he can’t direct the sheriff to spend the money, however, he questioned Wiles whether he had considered offering an estimated $800,000 that sits in an account. It was a question the sheriff wasn’t happy about.

“I don’t appreciate any accusation that I’m not support the needs of the county,” said Wiles, who also fielded questions about take-home vehicles used by more than 50 deputies.

A vote has never took place on the item. Instead, commissioners agreed to review the project and it's funding next week.  

Representatives from Motorola were in the audience of the county’s meeting. They’ve said that a deal to build the P25 radio system would likely stretch out over a year. The initial bill would be $2 million upon signing an agreement, but they've said that an additional $2 million in savings will only be realized if the county inks a deal soon.

According to the proposed timeline, the county will have five days to sign a deal when the discuss the topic again in two weeks.

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