By DIMAS CHAVEZ
For the past several weeks I have read in the Los Alamos Daily the volley of pro and cons regarding the Office of the Los Alamos County Sheriff, and if it should be abolished. For whatever it is worth, I wish to add my sentiments to this back and forth debate that seems to have lost its compass along the way.
I moved to Los Alamos Aug. 15, 1943 at the age of 6 and was the first male student in the Los Alamos School System to go from the first grade through the twelfth.
Along that journey I learned a great deal about Los Alamos, a community I deeply love and respect. Although I now reside in Potomac, Md., I own a home in Los Alamos, and pay my fair share of county taxes, so I feel comfortable in joining this discussion.
In the early years when the Office of Sheriff was introduced to the county I vividly recall one of the most flamboyant and effective elected sheriff’s the county had, Mr. Louie Rojas, who was an iron worker for the Zia Company. Shortly after the county was incorporated I had the pleasure of serving on the first county Personnel Board, which was chaired by Mr. Delbert Sundberg. I recall discussions on the topic of Sheriff vs the Police Department, which at the time was headed by Police Chief Umberheim, a highly respected officer of the law, a great friend to the community and the youngsters who all admired, respected and feared him when necessary as he kept us in line.
As many of the readers may know, the Los Alamos County Sheriff is a regular law enforcement official and has the authority to perform law enforcement duties at any location within their county of jurisdiction, but they primarily focus on unincorporated rural areas, while leaving law enforcement functions within the limits of incorporated municipalities of town or city to the Police Department. Sheriffs occasionally assist local Police Departments with law enforcement in incorporated cities and towns, particularly when such assistance is requested by local police.
I state the above as this very topic surfaced while I served as a member of the Los Alamos County Personnel Board concerning the possibility of duplication of effort between the Sheriff and Police Department. During this period of time I proudly served as a Deputy Sheriff for Mr. Rojas, and the concern of duplication was quickly put to rest as there was a strong bond and clearly written functional agreement between the two departments. The Sheriff was always an asset to the Police Department when needed, and served other needs in the course of action.
Another highly recognized and respected Sheriff was Mr. Turk Griffith, a Zia employee, who was killed in the line of duty when he was transporting a prisoner to Springer, NM. and a gas line blew up at a restaurant in which he was present. His son, Turk Griffith Jr., a graduate of West Point, was the first Los Alamos serviceman killed in action in Viet Nam, and the present Los Alamos High School gymnasium is named in his honor.
I have served in the arena of security during my federal government career at the Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Within that capacity I worked closely with the Intelligence Community, which consists of eighteen agencies. Our goal was mutual, but with different approaches, and each one effective, important and well coordinated. It was called team work. We had what we referred to as the suspenders and belt theory, which simply meant that if the belt gives out, the suspenders will pick up the remaining load. This is how in the early stages of the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department in Los Alamos County effectively functioned.
Because of our current climate in Law and Order, I would welcome the added security assistance of the Sheriff’s Office. I hope that the residents of Los Alamos will deeply analyze the positive element that can be achieved by retaining the Sheriffs Office.