Chapman: Quick Notes On The Sheriff/Police Question

By Ralph E. Chapman
Bon Vivant Paleontologist

Things have become amazingly convoluted in the letters to The Daily Post with all the odd twists and turns related to the question of what the Sheriff’s duties should be, if anything. I will not wade heavily into this area but have some observations.

For a time when I lived back East, a nearby County had both professional and volunteer fire departments whose coverage would, at times, apparently overlap. What a surprise that they often did not get along and, sometimes, would both show up at a fire scene. In the confusion, they would argue vehemently over jurisdiction. Sometimes, as I recall, it would even lead to fisticuffs and it always got in the way of fighting the fire.

What was the problem? There was confusion/uncertainty as to who really had jurisdiction and they both needed to justify their existence, so they would both claim priority as a means to do this.

Uncertainty can be a real killer in many circumstances. For example, I’m pretty sure many serious traffic accidents happen because drivers are confused over who has the right of way and they all go at the same time.

Learning from this, there is a major step we must take if we have both offices here in Los Alamos County. We must put all the law enforcement duties clearly in the hands of one office. Because these duties are currently with the Police, and they have the established system to do it, it should remain there.

The Sheriff’s office should not have those duties in any way. Instead, it should concentrate on the very different functions related to legal documents/warrants and the other activities that they do now.

If the Sheriff’s Office ever starts doing basic law enforcement and overlaps with the Police, it is inevitable that jurisdictional battles will ensue. So, there must be no confusion, and jurisdiction must be crystal clear or people will get hurt, and the County will end up getting sued ― a lot.

A lot of this comes from the unique situation of Los Alamos County. In most places, the police are run by the municipalities (cities, towns, etc.) and the Sheriffs’ Offices are County-wide entities (especially when there are areas within the county not covered by the towns).

But, lucky us, we are only a County with no separate towns ― at least that I know of. So, one office should really do; we really don’t need two. But if we are to have two, then they must be different. In Ecology, this is called niche partitioning.

One final comment. It is plain wrong to assume one office should investigate corruption in the other (either way – the transitive property of law enforcement). That’s because the investigations must come from more neutral entities and, given the historical friction, one investigating the other will always have a component of self-interest to it. Besides, there are other state-wide legal entities who can do those investigations.

So, for our County, we must keep the jurisdictions crystal clear and the duties of the offices very separate and explicitly stated, or there will be hell to pay.

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