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El Paso County Sheriff’s Office seeks new radios after communication problems during Walmart shooting

An El Paso Sheriff's deputy along with SWAT team members at the scene of the Aug. 3 Walmart mass shooting.

EL PASO, Texas -- ABC-7 has learned the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is planning on bringing in new handheld radios to improve communications that were hampered during last year's Walmart mass shooting.

Sheriff’s commander Ryan Urrutia told ABC-7 that the communications lapse was brief because those who had updated radios were able to help out deputies with old radios on Aug. 3, a day he says he will not soon forget.

“It's still one of those incidents where you, it happened, but you don't really think it happened, because you never thought it would come here,” Urrutia said.

Urrutia said he and 39 other sheriff's deputies responded to both the Cielo Vista Walmart, as well as the nearby Cielo Vista Mall, looking for the man who committed the massacre, killing 22 and injuring 26.

Urrutia said four deputies inside the crime scene were holding old Motorola radios that didn’t have the capacity to communicate vital information to other law enforcement agencies.

On Monday, the Sheriff's Office went before El Paso County Commissioners requesting a grant so they can update all their handheld radios that have greater capacity.

It’s called inneroperability, which gives them access to a multitude of law enforcement agencies, a vital tool in emergencies like the mass shooting.

“So this complete inneroperability assures that everybody is able to communicate at the scene of a disaster," said Urrutia.

Asked what the worst scenario under lapse in communications can led to, the commander responded: "Well, no communications. We've got to be able to effectively communicate in order to work. You know, especially in a size like that where its the Walmart, possibly Cielo Vista Mall. That's a large area.”

Urrutia said they are also reaching out to Homeland Security for a grant to complete the phasing in of newer radios. The price tag for each handheld radio is $7,000.

In all, the Sheriff's Office requested a $210,000 grant for the new radios that the commissioners meeting.

The grant application states, "the need for these radio upgrades was evident during the August 3, 2019 Walmart mass shooting where some of the officers inside the store were not able to communicate with others on the outside."

Though the Sheriff's Office is citing communication issues during the Cielo Vista Walmart shooting, a candidate for El Paso County Sheriff alleges there were no sheriff's deputies there that day.

"I was out there for ten days straight, from early in the morning to late at night, and not one time did I ever see our Sheriff. The only sheriff's deputies I saw was the swat unit when they came in and cleared out Sam's (Club)," said candidate Ron Martin during a recent debate on ABC-7.

Article Topic Follows: El Paso

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Saul Saenz

Shelby Montgomery

Las Cruces native Shelby Montgomery is an ABC-7 reporter who also co-anchors Good Morning El Paso weekends.


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