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County officials discuss emergency radio needs; Mother of sheriff’s deputy who was shot at writes letter concerning issue

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Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder talks Thursday at the Board of Commissioners meeting about the $3.5 million radio communications upgrade needed for area emergency services as part of his response to a letter circulated questioning why a Chaves County deputy could not use his radio when he was being shot at during a July incident east of Roswell. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The mother of a Chaves County sheriff deputy wants to know what can be done to improve the radio communication equipment used by the department after what she described as a scary incident involving her son when he was unable to use his radio to call for help.

The letter she wrote to Sheriff Britt Snyder and members of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners that was posted on Facebook by her son’s fiancee became a matter of lengthy discussion at the Thursday morning Board of Commissioners meeting at the Chaves County Administrative Center.
About 26 people hand-signed the letter she mailed to county officials. Nine pages of names of people who indicated support on Facebook were also forwarded, although a question was raised about whether the Facebook names could be verified.
“I just want to know what I can do to help,” said Shirley A. McVey of Roswell about the reasons that she wrote the letter. “What can be done to fix this?”
Snyder said the letter was inaccurate in some of its statements.
“I don’t like it when people put out information that is not accurate,” he said, but he also acknowledged the incident in question and that the department has problems with the current radio equipment. He said the Sheriff’s office is part of the $3.5 million to $4 million project to upgrade emergency radio communications in the area, an effort involving law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services departments of the city of Roswell and Chaves County.
McVey’s letter indicates that her son was shot at several times during a July 26 incident east of the city limits and was unable to call for backup because his radio did not work. McVey said a person in a passing car asked her son what could be done to help and her son told the person to call 911.
McVey, who included her phone number on the letter, said she was not told that the matter would be discussed at the Thursday meeting.
“I had no idea,” she said. “I would have tried to have been there.”
Snyder said that two deputies were sent on the call but became separated as they looked for the armed subject, which led to one of the deputies being alone when the suspect opened fire. He said deputies are trained to respond to incidents as if no backup will be available. but he also said that the current radio equipment used by area emergency services is hard to use, especially when someone is being shot at or otherwise in a dangerous situation, because the portable units require that personnel unlock keys or switch buttons to reach the correct repeater that can get their signal to other deputies in the area.
McVey’s letter asked whether the issue is about budget cuts. “I understand budget cuts and changes have to be made. Where does a person’s life stand in the cuts of the county? How are you dealing with this issue? Should this be brought to the county forum in hopes county (residents) will be made aware of the issues? What can we as taxpayers and voters do to assist the Sheriff’s office?”

McVey said she has yet to hear from anyone regarding the letter, although she said her son’s fiancee has met with Sheriff’s office personnel. Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. indicated that he had drafted a reply to the letter and was considering his response, while Commission Chair Robert Corn said that he considered the discussion at the meeting as his response.
“Budget cuts have nothing to do with this,” Corn said. “We are going to keep our men and ladies who wear the badges safe. It is not because of any budget constraints because what they do is important to everybody in Chaves County.”
County Manager Stanton Riggs added, “We didn’t have any budget cuts when it came to the Sheriff’s department. The Sheriff’s budget actually increased a little bit with the capital outlay requested, so a letter saying something about budget cuts just isn’t correct. Yes, we will have to have money down the road to complete the entire system (upgrade) and we know that.”
The $3.5 million digital system upgrade, prompted initially by federal regulations requiring emergency radio networks to shrink the bandwidth of their broadcast frequencies, is a complicated matter, with many different components. One is that the federal mandate did not provide any funding to local entities for the required upgrades, and, so far, the Emergency Management Office for the county and city has received $1.1 million in Homeland Security grants, leaving at least another $2.4 million to complete the upgrade.
Another issue involves highly technical issues such as finding frequencies to use that will work together and the peculiarities of how the equipment and system operate. According to Snyder, deputies sometimes have to switch channels to speak on analog because digital won’t work in some instances. He also said that a recent “retune” of the system, paid for by the county, helped to get most of the Sheriff’s department system working on digital, which he said is significantly clearer, allowing almost every word to be understood.
Snyder also said that they are looking to reprogram the portable units so that there would be an easy way for personnel to switch one button during a crisis situation and be on a “simulcast” system that would reach all emergency personnel with radios.
“We aren’t done,” Riggs said about the upgrade. “We are still looking at private funds and trying to figure out how to make it work.”
McVey, whose son was not hurt during the incident, said she hopes that the public will be part of the discussion and that she personally is willing to help.
“We want to be sure that officers are safe out there,” she said. “If they need more money, how can we help with that? How can we help get more government grants? Even if I need to do something to help myself, I am willing to do that.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.