Los Alamos County Council Transfers Sheriff’s Duties To Police Department … Considers Abolishing Office

Los Alamos County Sheriff Marco Lucero, center, with from left, Deputy John H. Horne, Senior Office Specialist Lisa Gonzalez, Deputy James Leach and Deputy John L. Horne gather for a photo Tuesday outside their office in downtown Los Alamos. Deputy Robert Farris was unable to attend. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

 
By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post
 
The Los Alamos County Council voted 4-1 Tuesday evening to transfer the bulk of the duties of the Office of Sheriff over to the police department. The maintenance of the sex offender registry will remain with the sheriff. It’s not clear how soon this move will happen.
 
Council Chair Rick Reiss brought the motion forward. Councilor Pete Sheehey voted against the measure saying that neither Sheriff Marco Lucero nor the public had been given a chance to weigh in on the action. Councilors James Chrobocinski and David Izraelevitz were absent.
 
At Tuesday’s meeting Council also heard Ordinance No. 665, which proposes amendments, to be submitted to voters for adoption or rejection at the Nov. 8, 2016 General Election. The amendment would consolidate all remaining powers and duties of the Office of the Sheriff to the Los Alamos Police Department and abolish the sheriff as an elective office.
Council directed staff to place the ordinance on the June 14 agenda.
 
“Why didn’t they talk to me or the public … this blindsided everyone,” Lucero said. “They act like the first they heard about the dangers if the sheriff’s duties was at last month’s budget hearing but I’ve been talking to council about this for five years and asking for resources for which they’ve turned me down every time.”
 
Lucero explained that he served as a Santa Fe County deputy sheriff for 22 years before retiring and being elected Los Alamos County Sheriff. He is in the middle of his second four year term.
 
“When I first became a sheriff I was assigned to Chimayo and worked closely and became close friends with State Police Ofc. Glenn Hubert and Rio Arriba County Deputy Sheriff Jerry Martinez,” Lucero said. “We would work together and back each other up. After Lucero had been transferred to criminal investigations, Hubert and Martinez were attempting to serve a domestic violence order and as they drove up they were ambushed by high powered rifles and both died at the scene. This was in the 1980s so this notion that it being a dangerous job is something new is simply not true.”
 
The majority of council will never provide resources to the sheriff’s Office to do its job, he said, adding that he has experienced a lack of respect by council since first taking office.
“During any hearing I’ve ever had, Councilor Pete Sheehey and Councilor James Chrobocinski are the only two councilors who have openly recognized the Office of the Sheriff as a productive community service and public safety entity,” Lucero said. “I term limit out Dec. 31, 2018 so this is not about me … it’s about the importance of the office.”
 
Lucero emphasized that he wants the community to understand that there is a distinct difference between the sheriff and the chief of police. The police chief answers to the county manager and the sheriff answers to the people who elected him.
 
“It’s a form of checks and balances so if there is some form of corruption in the local government then the sheriff can launch an investigation without fear of retaliation because he doesn’t answer to the manager,” Lucero said. “Also, saying this town is too small is not right either because we have larger populations during the week than many smaller towns in the state where there are police, sheriff and state police … how can you ever say you have too much protection or too many officers working on behalf of the people to keep them safe.”
 
Lucero also said he doesn’t believe it makes financial sense to transfer the duties of the sheriff to the police department where they will be paid a lot more to do the same job.
 
“I have no problem with the police department. I get along very well and admire the chief and hold all the officers in high esteem,” Lucero said. “This is about a few councilors who have a personal issue with me and I don’t know why … I don’t know what has caused them to treat this office with such disrespect.”
 
“I believe after researching the issue that this amendment and referendum are perfect examples of back door dirty politics and Councilor Reiss and Councilor Steve Girrens are the instigators,” Lucero said. “It is concerning that council members have the authority to easily amend the county charter without input from the sheriff or the people of Los Alamos County. For a citizen to request an amendment to the charter they must acquire thousands of signatures and present it to council for consideration. The council with one swoop of its hand can make this amendment without any input or direction from the public.”
 
The council’s proposed ordinance would place a ballot question before the voters in November that would abolish the Office of Sheriff in Los Alamos County at the end of the current term in 2018. The Constitutional Amendment that allowed Los Alamos County to incorporate specifically gave the County the authority to determine what elective offices it would maintain.
 
The County in its agenda write up explained that the County charter places law enforcement duties within the County in the police department. Because the County has no unincorporated area, there is not a need for two law enforcement agencies in the County.
 
“It’s been said that because Los Alamos is a city and a county within itself, there is no reason to have a sheriff with law enforcement functions – it should be noted that every county in this state has a city and a county and a sheriff has authority and works within the city limits as well as the county,” Lucero said.
 
Lucero also wanted to clarify a statement he heard Councilor Kristin Henderson make during a Wednesday morning interview.
 
“Councilor Henderson mentioned that the sheriff will keep the sex offender monitoring. She identified this as being a non law enforcement function. The registering and monitoring of criminally convicted sex offenders is obviously and clearly a law enforcement function,” he said. “State statute specifically dictates that those duties be assigned to the county sheriff.”

 
The sheriff’s budget of $88,000 for FY-17 would be unnecessary after 2018 if the Charter amendment is adopted. However, until the Los Alamos Police Department can develop a track record of service of process, it is unknown if that department would need an increase to assimilate the sheriff duties.
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