By KRISTIN HENDERSON
Los Alamos County Council
I am voting FOR County Question #1, to eliminate the Office of Sheriff in Los Alamos. I encourage everyone who believes in good government, strong public safety, and reduction of unnecessary risk to do the same.
Typically, a Sheriff provides law enforcement in County, or rural, areas. The Sheriff position in Los Alamos has no law enforcement duties, and Los Alamos has no County-only, or rural, land. All of the county land in Los Alamos is incorporated into the municipality of Los Alamos. There is not a square inch of just-County land for a Sheriff in Los Alamos to stand on.
Los Alamos became a municipal government in the 1960s. The County of Los Alamos had already been created as a legal entity in 1949. When the Federal Government decided to no longer run Los Alamos as a Federal scientific base, in the 1960s, all of the county land was wholly incorporated into the municipality of Los Alamos. Los Alamos remains the only city-county entity in New Mexico.
While debating their preferred from of government, Los Alamos citizens got to choose who would provide law enforcement – a professional law enforcement agency (a Police Department), an elected Sheriff, or both.
They decided against two agencies providing law enforcement – it is both wasteful to pay for two departments to do the same thing, and creates chain-of-command issues. Between the two, they chose a professional Police Department to provide law enforcement.
In the 40-plus years since that decision, Los Alamos has developed one of the most highly trained, professional law enforcement agencies in the State, has a very low crime rate, and 20 percent of our Police Department costs are paid for by the Department of Energy. In the meantime, if there were ever corruption or other issues with our Police Department, the Chief and any of the Officers can be fired. No need for a recall election, as with a Sheriff.
In the 1960s, it was unclear whether every County in New Mexico was required to have a Sheriff – even a city-county – so although the job was specifically given non-law enforcement duties, the Office of Sheriff is in our Charter language (the foundational rules for our local government).
The ability to define the responsibilities of Sheriff as non-law enforcement was challenged in court in the 1970s, and the citizens of the County won. It is settled law in New Mexico that Los Alamos can define the role of Sheriff to be non-law enforcement. (Although the current Sheriff claimed publicly it is not binding law on him.)
Since that time, it has become apparent that an Office of Sheriff is no longer required in New Mexico – if it ever was – in every county.
Over the last decade or so, various Councils and citizen committees have debated eliminating the office – which requires a public vote.
Recently, a couple changes have pushed the issue to the forefront, so it is now on the ballot.
First, the tasks assigned to the Office of Sheriff have gotten even lighter. Earlier this year, the current Sheriff informed Council that service of process has changed, is fraught with danger to himself and his deputies (who are neither trained nor vetted by the County), and is a law enforcement task. His solution was that Council beef up spending on law enforcement gear for his non-law enforcement office.
Instead, Council, concerned with the liability expressed by the Sheriff, moved service of process to the Police Department – the place in Los Alamos for law enforcement activities.
We now have an elected office whose only job is to occasionally check on the 10 or 11 citizens listed on the registered sex offender list – a task the Police Department could readily do. (This last year, with about a $4,000- salary, the Sheriff spent $84,000, including a fair amount on travel to state-wide and out-of-state Sheriff meetings.)
A second recent change is that Sheriff’s offices across the US, including Los Alamos, have become a siren call for people who believe Sheriffs have special powers, create law, and supersede all other authority. One example of this movement was seen in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover in Oregon – based on the belief that certain citizens and their “Constitutional Sheriffs” can take over any Federal land, because they are above any Federal authority.
The fact that people with such beliefs can and will run for the office is reason enough to eliminate what is, in our County, an unnecessary elected position anyway.
Although the current Sheriff denies subscribing to “Constitutional Sheriff” beliefs, many of the Deputies he has selected use language in public letters that mimic the beliefs of this movement, and his name is on a public list of “Constitutional Sheriffs” who swear not to uphold any law from, specifically, President Obama, if they personally do not “believe” in that law.
I personally do not believe we need this elected position. It provides no law enforcement services, the one administrative task it has – checking on individuals on the sex offender list – can readily be performed by the Police Department – yet it opens up our citizens to risk and the County (and your tax dollar) to unnecessary legal liability.
Please vote FOR County Question #1 and eliminate the Office of Sheriff in Los Alamos.