In June, the Los Alamos County Council voted to place on the General Election ballot the question of whether our County should continue to have an elected office of sheriff. Like Robert Gibson (http://www.ladailypost.com/content/los-alamos-sheriff-increases-confusion-and-risk), I plan to vote FOR this ballot question.
As an incorporated county, Los Alamos is permitted under the New Mexico Constitution to determine what elected offices the county shall include in its charter, and what the duties of those offices shall be. (“Los Alamos’Unique Form of Government”: http://www.ladailypost.com/content/chandler-los-alamos%E2%80%99-unique-form-government).
Since the county’s adoption of its home rule charter in 1968, the office of sheriff has been defined as largely ceremonial, with no law enforcement responsibilities, and with limited civil responsibilities. The sheriff is presently responsible for maintaining the sex offender registry. The office has no other duties assigned to it; the police department can easily take over the responsibility for the registry.
While in reality the office plays a very limited substantive role in county government, the fact we maintain an office of sheriff creates confusion for not only our citizens, but also outside agencies that do not know about or understand our unique structure of government. A recent event evidences how the existence of the office can misinform outside organizations. A few months ago, the Los Alamos Daily Post reported that a former pastor of a local church had been identified by an out of state law enforcement agency as a suspect in a child pornography case. That agency provided the sheriff’s office with evidence, no doubt believing that our sheriff’s office held duties comparable to those in its jurisdiction. The LA deputy sheriff who received the information, recognizing that he had no arrest authority, notified our police department, which investigated and arrested the individual. Although the deputy in all likelihood promptly provided the information to our police, it is concerning that there was any lag at all. Consider a situation that is time-critical: the delay inherent in passing on information through a part-time office to the real police department could result in danger or missed opportunities to make arrests.
Clear lines of responsibility is a sound principle in governmentand it is particularly important when safety is a key element. Maintaining a second department blurs roles. This is not only a poor structure but also one that has the potential to undermine timely law enforcement action when it is needed. For this reason, I think that it important to ensure that we eliminate the ambiguity by eliminating the office that creates that ambiguity.