Letter To The Editor: Regarding Sheriff’s Lawsuit

By GEORGE CHANDLER
Los Alamos
 
The election on Question 1 (Sheriff elimination) will not be stopped and the result will be valid. A careful reading of the complaint for declaratory judgment and injunction filed against the county and the “Los Alamos Board of Commissioners (sic)” reveals it is full of technical defects and substantive omissions and errors.
 
It displays an appalling lack of information about the constitutional and statutory background of Los Alamos County, its charter, the institution of sheriff and our police department. That’s all I’ll say about that, but look for it to be blasted out of the water in short order. The election is legal and there’s no question that the charter amendment, if adopted, will withstand judicial scrutiny.
 
But you still have to decide if you want a sheriff or not. The principal argument being repeated by those who want a sheriff is this (I paraphrase): “The Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county with a unique mandate to investigate corruption in government.”
 
If you have followed the debate, you know that this is the only argument being made in favor of keeping the office of sheriff. Nobody has anything bad to say about the police department and it’s clear the citizens of Los Alamos have the right to make this decision. So let’s parse this argument. A county may contain several legal venues subject to various legal jurisdictions.
 
National Parks, Monuments, and Forests (examples of venues) are subject to federal rules and regulation that are enforced by Park Police and other federal authorities, including FBI and DEA. The Sheriff generally has jurisdiction over violations of state law in these areas but not the federal laws. Although the extremist sheriffs of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association claim that sheriffs may supervise the enforcement of federal laws within their counties by federal law enforcement personnel, that is a delusion of grandeur intended to advance a political scheme to challenge the federal government, it has no basis in law.
 
Indian Reservations and Pueblos are nominally sovereign nations but the law on them is complex: tribal, state, and federal laws and law enforcement intersect on these sovereign islands. The sheriff is only one player, and certainly not the Chief.
 
It has long been recognized that the sheriff has concurrent authority with the state police in each county, according to an Attorney General’s opinion from 1943. Counties in New Mexico often contain municipalities that have police departments. These police departments (in every county, not just Los Alamos) have the same authority within the city limits as the Sheriff, and are peace officers governed by the same statutes as sheriffs.
 
The Sheriff retains his authority, but he is concurrent with the police, he is not the Chief. So the Sheriff is not in any way the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the county, except in the fevered pronouncements of the Western States Sheriffs Association (WSSA) and the New Mexico Sheriffs Association (NMSA).
 
The authority for the “unique ability to investigate corruption” has the same genesis – the creative public relations gambit of the WSSA and the NMSA. You will search in vai (I have done so) for any legal authority to support this statement. Certainly no Sheriff of Los Alamos County has in my experience and historical knowledge made any effort to investigate corruption in county government, although the current sheriff has just recently revealed (without substantiation) that he is sure a citizen’s complaint he “investigated” is the cause of his current woes.
 
But the fact is, the effort to eliminate the vanity position of sheriff from our charter goes back far before the tenure of the current sheriff. In all the corruption investigations that have made headlines in New Mexico in my memory, I have never heard of one that was instigated by a sheriff. Maybe I missed it. And corruption can be investigated by any of the many law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction: state police, FBI, and local police, plus District Attorney and Attorney General.
 
And what of the WSSA and the NMSA? Why are they pushing this theory to expand the limits of Sheriff’s authority in every state? I think the answer lies in the approaching nationwide obsolescence of the institution of Sheriff. The WSSA has in a recent statement revealed that a number of counties are moving to eliminate the elected office of sheriff, and it appears to me that by adopting this new theory of sheriff-ing they are seeking to become relevant again.
 
There’s my view. The Sheriff of Los Alamos County is redundant, irrelevant, costs money, and serves no function. Maybe you like Sheriff Longmire, or you’re nostalgic for Sheriff Andy Griffith of Mayberry, but if you’re serious that government should be efficient and effective and waste should be eliminated, then this is a good place to start.
 
Please vote FOR Question 1.
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