LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Police officers in Slaton said they thought they were taking a step to increase safety and communication in their community, but the upgrade they made has left them vulnerable.
The Slaton Police Department and Slaton ISD Police Department tell KCBD that in 2017, they learned they were the only ones in Lubbock County still using older radios.
Officers said in order to communicate with the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office and other police departments in the county, they needed to switch to newer radios known as 800 MHz radios.
However, once they made the switch, they realized a portion of Slaton is in a dead zone, where the radios just won’t work.
Officer said they have intermittent service at best.
Sometimes their radios will work on one side of the school or street, and then they will take a few steps and have no service, which creates a major safety concern when officers are needing to get in touch with each other or dispatch and the call never goes through.
Two years after installing those radios, they are still actively looking for a solution.
“My heart and my stomach sank,” said Slaton ISD Superintendent Julee Becker.
Becker found out about the radio problem as thousands of people filed into Slaton’s high school gymnasium for graduation.
“With this age of mass shootings, and all of the things that weigh heavy on us all of the time. We preach every day that communication is our number one safety tool,” Becker said.
However, she learned the new safety tool they had invested in had dead zones all over the community, including inside and outside of schools.
“We established a police force and we have hardened our schools, but none of that is going to matter if when something happens, we can’t talk to one another,” Becker said.
She said officers ended up relying on their cell phones, something they continue to do.
“We have ways to communicate, just not with 800 radios or Lubbock County or with each other in some parts of our community,” Becker said.
Slaton ISD Chief of Police James Williams said his radio is the most important tool on his belt.
“A police officer uses their radio 100 times more than they would ever use their weapon,” Williams said.
In January 2019, Williams said his officers assisted Slaton P.D. on a call in a dead zone.
“We had a person that barricaded himself in a house near one of my schools. We asked for the help from the Lubbock County SWAT team, which was able to come out and assist and unfortunately on our channel, we couldn’t communicate,” Williams said.
Williams said there have been incidents where they have called for backup on their 800 MHz radios, but the call never went through.
“One of my other officers had to take somebody to the ground as well as myself attempting to make an arrest on another individual; she started assaulting me. So, we started to key up asking for more officers; we were outnumbered,” Williams said. “Nobody ever heard us calling for help.”
“When you have to use a cell phone or a different handheld radio, you are in a compromised position. The perpetrator is not going to stop when you say, ‘Can you hold on a second? I need to make a phone call to my partner over there.’ That is deeply concerning,” Becker said.
The KCBD Investigates Team has looked into possible solutions to the radio issues.
The city may need a tower, which can run about half a million dollars.
The schools may need to install antennas to have better reception.
Becker said she estimates those antennas costing about $60,000.
The officers in Slaton may need to switch to another radio.
We spoke with County Commissioner Jason Corley who said ultimately, a study may need to be done to determine which is the best and most cost efficient option.