County commissioners to discuss multi-million dollar request for new radio system for Sheriff's deputies.
Sheriff Richard Wiles said his department needs new radios. County leaders weren’t 100 percent sold. Instead, they asked Commissioner Carlos Leon, a former El Paso police chief, to sit down with county law enforcers to look into the issue.
County leaders haven’t always shied away from opening the purse strings for Wiles. In fact, the Sheriff’s Office accounts for nearly half the county’s budget. This year the Sheriff’s Office has seen 42.7 percent of the county’s annual budget directed it’s way. That accounts for more than $98 million.
“In the list of all the bond projects, law enforcement got the lion’s share,” said County Judge Veronica Escobar. “I think it was close to 50 or 60 percent of it.”
Wiles doesn’t seem it the same way. He is well aware that more than $40 million was sent toward the completion of the east side jail annex. An additional $3.5 million was used to buy new sheriff’s deputy units.
“You know, this is not about kingdom-building,” explained Wiles. “That idea, here is the Sheriff’s Department trying to suck all the resources of the county up. The fact of it is the primary responsibility of the county to it’s people is public safety.”
That’s what Wiles says he is ensuring. According to him, the issue stems from federal mandates tied to radio communication. All law enforcement departments across the state had to be compliant with national standards by Jan. 1 this year. The county met the standards, but it actually made their communications less reliable.
When terrorists struck the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 first responders couldn’t communicate because of all the radio frequencies separate entities used. Since then, plans were in place to change the system. That involved going digital.
Wiles said the problem was, that going digital meant less reliability. Right now, they count on patches to make older analog radios work properly. The new purchase he requested would bring them up to speed. At this time deputies have poor signal in as much as 70 percent of the county according to Wiles.
“Some deputies are actually having to use cell phones to communicate because there are so many dead areas,” said Leon.
The need is there, but the question county leaders want answered is ‘How big is the need?’. It’s likely that commissioners will vote on the $10.3 million proposal as quickly as next week.