County officials initiate search for new surveillance equipment, deputy

PRESIDIO — At yesterday’s regular meeting, the Presidio County Commissioners Court approved the first steps toward a new mobile surveillance unit and a deputy for the sheriff’s office. With the commissioners’ blessing, the PCSO will be able to move forward with both projects — which the department hopes will have a positive impact across the county.

First, the commissioners voted in favor of initiating an RFP (request for proposals) to replace an ailing mobile surveillance unit mounted on the back of a PCSO vehicle for use on patrol.  

The software on the old mobile unit was outdated and the only place to take it for the necessary repairs was in Florida. Rather than have a staff member drive across the country, the PSCO opted to replace it instead. “We thought the best thing to do was to dispose of it through the [Operation] Stonegarden grant program,” PSCO Secretary Shanna Elmore explained. 

The Operation Stonegarden program — a federal network of grants offered to border governments to help offset the cost of law enforcement equipment and staffing — originally funded the unit. The new, up-to-date model is already an approved purchase through the department’s Operation Lone Star funds — the state-level wave of funding for law enforcement on the border. “This one is a lot more high-tech,” Elmore said. 

The upgraded equipment boasts a number of features intended to help the PSCO in the county’s most remote reaches. The mobile unit can be charged indefinitely off of a vehicle’s battery and has a number of imaging options: high-quality daytime photo and video recording and a sophisticated thermal camera that can sense a person up to six miles away. 

The unit is also equipped with GPS trackers and a number of laser scopes to help officers determine exact distances and waypoints. The unit can ride compactly in the back of a vehicle or it can be extended — the largest available unit can stretch up to 34 feet high. 

To help guide the purchasing and implementation process, the commissioners appointed a committee of Elmore, Precinct 2 Commissioner Margarito Hernandez and Treasurer Frances Garcia to offer their expertise. The total price tag is $663,000 for the unit; the county will be using an existing vehicle. 

Next, PSCO Chief Deputy Joel Nuñez gave a brief presentation in support of the department’s plan to hire a third deputy to cover the northern half of the county. The plan had been in the works since 2015, when the department added a third deputy to cover Presidio. They’d talked about adding another one for Marfa — but that plan fell by the wayside after the Marfa Police Department — scrapped in 2009 and temporarily replaced by a contract with the PSCO — rebooted in 2017. 

Nuñez explained that the three Presidio deputies were sometimes called to assist in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operations — the new Marfa deputy would be more focused on strictly domestic concerns. “We have a lot of activity [on the border], it’s increasing,” Nuñez said. “We want someone to cover more of the normal duties of a deputy — citizen complaints, highway patrol, community presence.” 

The commissioners court ultimately voted in favor of hiring another deputy. For the rest of the fiscal year, the new hire will be bankrolled by seized funds and then will become a permanent part of the county budget during the next cycle.