EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – More El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies will patrol near the Socorro Independent School District Student Activities Complex in Far East El Paso in response to concerns about safety in the desert.
The El Paso County Commissioners Court approved, in a unanimous vote, to use salary savings to pay deputies up to $60,000 in overtime to patrol near the complex on Monday. The funds will pay for overtime until the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
“On this item, this has to do with numerous citizen complaints that the county has received about people gathering in the desert area near the Socorro Activities Center,” Sam Trujillo the county’s chief human resources officer said. “These gatherings have resulted in fights, shootings and bullets even hitting residential homes.”
Iliana Holguin, commissioner of Precinct 3, said the item on Monday’s agenda came at a request for assistance to respond to concerns in the area. A shooting in July resulted in one death and five injuries, she added.
“We see this type of behavior, unfortunately, very often in this area, which is a very large area with open space and people gather thinking it’s (public) property when it’s really not,” Holguin said.
Holguin said there was a shooting about the same time last year that did not result in deaths but people were injured. Constituents have complained about the incidents and gatherings, she added.
In July, the sheriff’s department said a shooting had left one person dead and five injured during a gathering in the desert near the Student Activities Complex. Authorities identified the victim as Cruz Eli Arredondo, a 21-year-old, who was killed in the shooting.
The sheriff’s department also said individuals between the ages of 17 and 22 had been injured and were taken to the hospital for treatment for their injuries.
A suspect has not been identified and no arrests have been announced by the sheriff’s office.
Funding for overtime or extra patrols will need to be addressed in the next budget cycle, Holguin said. Private property owners may need to be alerted about what happens, she added.
“A lot of what is happening there is a really a symptom of some other root causes we need to address and we will discuss that,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said.
Ryan Urrutia, a commander with the sheriff’s department, said gathering and incidents have been a growing issue for law enforcement.
He says gun violence is on the rise and is an issue across the U.S. By adding patrols near the activities complex, law enforcement will be able to slow gang activity and gun violence in these areas, he added.
“We are working with the Texas anti-gang unit to identify gang members that are congregating in those areas,” he said. “If we can stop it before it happens, it prevents putting our officers in danger, putting the public in danger.”
Urrutia said if activity is minimal at the sports complex, deputies will also head to the Red Sands area.
“There’s two areas of responsibility we can address this funding with,” he said.