Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone updates Kiwanians on the latest community and department news during a meeting Tuesday at Trinity on the Hill Church. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordin/ladailypost.com
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos Tuesday at Trinity on the Hill Church. He provided the club with an update on the police department during the past two years.
“We recently had a retirement and Oliver Morris has been named deputy chief,” Sgambellone said. “He’s an exemplary officer and an exemplary person.”
Sgambellone said the last two years have been the most challenging of his 31-year career due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We saw an increase in mental health outcomes,” he said. “There were eight suicides in 2020. Statistics for 2021 haven’t been released yet.”
The Department expected to see an increase in domestic violence, but it did not, Sgambellone said.
“The number one driver of crime is theft,” he said. “All I can say is, don’t leave your doors open and lock your cars.”
According to LAPD records, there were 60 cases of larceny in 2019, 63 in 2020 and 79 in 2021. The data for 2021 is still under review and there were some policy changes in how larcenies are tracked, Cmdr. Morris clarified after the meeting.
Perhaps the greatest COVID related challenge for the department has been keeping the department fully staffed, especially in dispatch, Sgambellone said.
“It’s a tough, demanding job,” he said. “Recruiting in law enforcement has taken a hit, but people want to come here. We’ve seen a reduction in applications, but so far we are okay.”
“I was personally opposed to legalizing marijuana in New Mexico,” Sgambellone said. “We’re living in an insatiable drug culture and legalization sends the wrong message … it’s likely we’ll see negative outcomes.”
Sgambellone is especially concerned about youth. Department statistics show the overall number of drug cases has remained flat over the past three years.
The concerning thing is the majority of drug arrests in 2021 were at Los Alamos Public Schools and investigated by school resource officers, he said. Of the 19 cases investigated in 2021, 18 were at the public schools.
It is important to teach our youth it is still illegal to possess marijuana on school campuses and when under 21 years of age, he said. Another concern is impaired driving. It is still illegal to drive under the influence of drugs.
“Education of the public and youth is important to understand some of the changes on what is legal and what is not legal,” Morris said. “For example, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in public, however it is only a civil citation and not a criminal citation. Officers have been directed to issue a $50 civil citation for violations related to this change. LAPD has actively sought guidance and given directives to officers on how to incorporate the changes with regard to due process and even evidentiary procedures such as whether evidence can even be seized related to marijuana legislation in certain instances. The State of New Mexico needs to incorporate legal update training for law enforcement and elected officials to ensure the new legislation is being interpreted correctly.”
Another issue affecting youth is bullying.
“We do get calls, but we can’t really do a lot about it,” Sgambellone said. “We need to be creative with teaching youth what is and is not appropriate behavior.”
Lastly, Sgambellone addressed phone and Internet scams. A recent one involved a fake officer saying there is a warrant for someone’s arrest and they must send money. The department does not make such calls, he said.
Sgambellone invited citizens to report suspected scams to the department and it will forward them to the FBI. Most of the scams originate in foreign countries, he said.
“Don’t give out sensitive personal information unless you are positive about the source of the call,” he stressed.