DONNA, RGV – City of Donna officials say if they had a Las Vegas-type mass shooting situation to deal with their police officers would be ready – because each one is armed with high-powered automatic rifles.

“We purchased high powered automatic rifles for every vehicle. If our officers get involved in a hostile situation they can actually return fire and have the same firepower as the criminal. If there are long range shots, kind of like what happened in Las Vegas, our officers are equipped. We want them to be able to defend themselves to the fullest,” said Donna Interim City Manager Ernesto Silva.

Donna Police Chief Ruben ‘Ram’ De Leon

Donna Police Chief Ruben “Ram” De Leon said he appreciated all the new equipment his department has been provided with. “If they (potential criminals) are bringing a rifle, you need a rifle,” De Leon said. The Donna Police Department has 45 members of staff. Of these, 25 are in patrol cars.

De Leon said the city commission started to get serious about fully equipping the police department about two years ago. He said he and Silva had a two-hour meeting. They agreed the department’s new motto was to serve and protect.

“Back in the day, you would come in and the first thing you had to do was find out which car worked. I started here in 1996. If I wanted to work here I had to buy my own bullet-proof vest. If I wanted to work here I had to bring my own gun. If I wanted to work here I had to buy my own bullets. If I wanted to work here I had to buy my own flash light, my own handcuffs,” De Leon said.

Silva and De Leon ran through some of the new equipment that has been purchased for the police department.

“When I started here I would hear justifiable complaints from the police chief and patrolmen. They had to bring in their own guns. Not having compatible weapons, you cannot survive. We purchased hand guns for all officers and investigators,” Silva said.

“I heard the complaints at a retreat we held: ‘The minute we get past the expressway, two or three miles, we lose contact with dispatcher. The equipment is in poor condition.’ The police department was not functioning properly. Now, our communications system is compatible with the feds, with Border Patrol, Customs, DPS. If our officers need back up, the system notifies all the other agencies. Same with our firefighters,” Silva said.

“The portable radio alone is a lifeline for the officer in the street. Before we could not communicate past Walmart and Walmart is just a couple of miles up the road,” said De Leon, pointing out that each portable radio costs $7,000.

Another new piece of equipment is the body cameras. All Donna police officers now have functioning body cameras. Silva said this has resulted in complaints against police officers dropping 90 percent.

Donna Interim City Manager Ernesto Silva

Next came new hand guns for all police officers and investigators. And then new state-of-the-art bullet proof vests, capable of withstanding a high-powered rifle shot. “This can be the difference between life and death. We hear comments that we do not take care of our officers, that is not true,” Silva said.

And coming soon is a new gun range.

“Before, all we had was a mound of dirt and officers would shoot at targets. We got some equipment from Customs and we are building a new facility. There will be an educational setting, with an instructor. We are in the final stages of design,” Silva said.

“There will be a classroom setting for education, where officers will be trained. They can then go out and shoot and be evaluated. The facility will have showers. We want them to have the best environment to get trained. We are also going to build a testing site of long range shooting, where officers can get their certification. This is important for our SWAT teams. Our officers need to be able to practice.”

De Leon said the uniforms were changed last year. Out went the old dark blue colors, and in came a cowboy had, white shirts and khaki pants. “The old uniforms made the officers look like militia,” said De Leon.

Silva said Donna gets about 3.3 million tourists and business visitors from Mexico a year. He said the new uniforms makes the city look friendlier. “When you are dealing with tourists it was kind of intimidating. We wanted the new uniform to reflect the history of the city. We were the beginning of the Chisholm Trail. They were cowboys. We wanted to portray the image of the city. Little kids come from Mexico, they want to see cowboys. They are a friendly face,” Silva said.

Among the pieces of equipment on the police officer’s belt is a tourniquet, in case someone is bleeding badly. The officers are trained to apply it.

Donna Police Officer Justin Trejo displayed some of the new equipment he carries with him. Trejo said he moved from Pharr to Donna because he was made to feel welcome, even though the pay was not as good.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Donna Police Officer Justin Trejo. Trejo said he moved from Pharr to Donna.