Letter To The Editor: Confused About Sheriff?

Former Los Alamos County Councilor
Charter Review Committee Chair 1994-95

Here are the basics on the sheriff issue, Question 1 on the ballot.

Unique in New Mexico, Los Alamos is a combined city-county under a charter (analogous to a constitution) approved by voters.

In accord with our charter, we have a police department responsible for law enforcement. For historical reasons, we also have a sheriff who’s ONLY, repeat, ONLY current duty is to register sex offenders. Like all other traditional sheriff’s duties, that could also be transferred to the police department.

Because of the limited duties, the LA sheriff is not required to be a trained or certified law enforcement officer, although the current sheriff happens to be.

To register sex offenders, the current sheriff insists he must have deputies, uniforms, guns, police vehicles and a substantial budget.

Most sheriffs in our county’s history have discharged their limited duties responsibly. A few have tried to “push the envelope” into law enforcement, none more so than the current sheriff.

Untrained, uncertified, unauthorized ersatz cops “patrolling” our county are a recipe for tragedy – and for the civil suits that inevitably follow.

There is no such thing as a “Constitutional Sheriff.” That is a right-wing fringe philosophy that local sheriffs are the ultimate law of the land. It has no basis in law.

A county sheriff is not a buttress against public corruption. Then-sheriffs Greg Solano in Santa Fe and Tommy Rodella in Rio Arriba are contrary examples. Their paths to jail were paved by the State Police and FBI, respectively. The elected district attorney and attorney general also have professional corruption investigators.

The sheriff’s new lawsuit against the County largely replicates arguments made by another Los Alamos sheriff – and wholly rejected by the court – in a similar suit in 1976.

Our sheriff’s role has little in common beyond its title with traditional sheriffs elsewhere. But that title has caused confusion for decades. Approval of Question 1 would end the confusion and associated risks once and for all.