Voters To Decide Fate Of Los Alamos Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff Marco Lucero tells the County Council at Tuesday’s meeting that the services provided by his office are law enforcement functions prescribed by state law. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Councilors listening to Sheriff Marco Lucero speak at the podium during Tuesday’s meeting, from left, Vice Chair Susan O’Leary, Chair Rick Reiss, David Izraelevitz, Pete Sheehey and James Chrobocinski. Councilors Kristin Henderson and Steven Girrens attended the meeting by telephone. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Los Alamos County sheriff’s deputies and supporters stand at the back of Council Chambers during Tuesday’s meeting. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

 

By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post

Strong emotions surfaced Tuesday evening from individuals speaking for and against keeping the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s Office. Following public comment from about a dozen people and a lengthy discussion by Council members and County staff, a 4-3 vote sent the question to voters to decide.

If the electorate votes to adopt Ordinance No. 665 in the Nov. 8 election, all remaining powers and duties of the Office of the Sheriff will transfer to the Los Alamos Police Department and the sheriff as an elective office will be abolished.

Sheriff Marco Lucero addressed the council Tuesday evening saying, “What sense does it make in transferring money from a county sheriff’s office with a budget of $88,000 to another county department with an approved budget of over $7 million. Sheriff’s deputies earn on average $11 an hour and police officers earn $30 an hour … this makes no economic sense.”

Council voted at its May 24 meeting to transfer the service of process duties to the police department and Tuesday evening voted 4-3 to move a portion of the sheriff’s budget to the police department to cover the cost of performing that function. Councilors James Chrobocinski, Steven Girrens and Pete Sheehey voted against the measure. Chair Rick Reiss, Vice Chair Susan O’Leary and councilors Kristin Henderson and David Izraelevitz voted for it.

The county has taken the position that because it has no unincorporated area, there is not a need for two law enforcement agencies: “Recognizing that the world and society have changed in ways that increase exposure to violence, it may no longer make sense to have a Sheriff’s Office with such limited functions while, at the same time, exposing part-time casual workers to the risks that may accompany serving process. In consideration of the risks faced by those performing these judicially mandated tasks, the sponsors think it prudent to reconsider whether the office of sheriff is an anomaly in the present day and no longer meets the needs of Los Alamos County.”

Lucero said that if there is a liability concern, it was created by council by not properly recognizing the Los Alamos Sheriff’s Office for the services it provides to the community. He added that since his first election six years ago, there has not been a tort claim or law suit filed against his office.

“Since my election I have done my best with the little resources I was given to make this a recognized professional law enforcement agency. I am proud to say we have reached national recognition in our efforts when I, your small town county sheriff, was nominated as Sheriff of the Year by my peers of the Western States Sheriff’s Association,” Lucero said. “The Los Alamos Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the arrest and conviction of criminal sex offenders … if one of these arrests prevented another child victim – it was worth its weight in gold.”

Local attorney George Chandler made the following statement during the public comment period at Tuesday’s meeting:

I thank the council for recognizing the problems posed by the Sheriff’s Office as it exists in Los Alamos and deciding to take action.  I believe the office of Sheriff should be abolished.

Under the constitution and charter the decision to abolish an office is in the hands of voters. I urge you to give them that choice. I want to emphasize that I hold no personal animus toward Sheriff Lucero. This is not about Sheriff Lucero.   

The simple fact is, that no matter how competent the Sheriff, how qualified his deputies, how sincere his dedication to the safety of the people of Los Alamos, we do not need a sheriff in Los Alamos. 

We have a competent Police Department, and we select our chiefs from the best in national searches. Our community is safe, there is no public safety crisis, and if there were, we have the ability and resources to hire more qualified and certified policemen to deal with it. Nothing in the Sheriff’s limited portfolio has any substantial effect on this, aside from registering and tracking a few sex offenders, which the Police Department can handle with ease.

While there is no substantial benefit, there is risk and liability exposure that comes with a part-time Sheriff’s Office – with limited duties and mostly uncertified personnel who may have only a dangerously dim appreciation of the limits of their authority. Yet the county is ultimately responsible for the actions of the Sheriff.

When you have armed agents of the county approaching citizens under stressful conditions you have the potential for confrontation, mistakes, and injuries to agents and citizens alike.  We have a responsibility to see to it that the people we trust to make that approach are fully certified, trained, backed up, and supervised. We have that in our professional full time police department.  Use it, because the risk-benefit ratio of a part-time sheriff is unacceptable.

In any event, this decision tonight is not to abolish the office, but to put it up to the people. I urge you to put this to the people. Thank you.

Local resident Dan McCarn also read from a letter he sent to Attorney General Hector Balderas and provided a copy to the Los Alamos Daily Post:

Should voters decide in the November election to abolish the sheriff’s office, the office will close at the end of Lucero’s term, Dec. 31, 2018.

Sheriff Marco Lucero addresses the County Council Tuesday at the Municipal Building. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Scene from Tuesday’s meeting. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Community members line up to speak during public comment. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Dan McCarn. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

George Chandler. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Alan Wadlinger. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Former Los Alamos County Councilor and current Assessor Ken Milder. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Matt Wolk. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

James Whitehead. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

John N. Horne. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

John L. Horne. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Former County Council candidate Antonio Maggiore. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Former Councilor Vincent Chiravelle. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Sheriff Lucero’s daughter Lucinda Lucero traveled from Albuquerque Tuesday to let the council know she is proud of her father and cannot understand why they want to abolish the office of the sheriff. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Scene from Tuesday’s Council meeting. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Los Alamos County Attorney Rebecca Ehler. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Los Alamos County Sheriff Marco Lucero shakes hands with Police Chief Dino Sgambellone Tuesday evening in the lobby of the Municipal Building following the County Council’s decision to send the question of whether to abolish the office of the sheriff to a vote of the community in November. Police Cmdr. Preston Ballew, center, and Sheriff Lucero’s wife Sandra Lucero look on. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

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