Interim police chief holds things together

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LAPD > Community policing remains top priority

By Tris DeRoma

County Emergency Coordinator Phil Taylor has handled many crises in his career, but never one within his own ranks.

In the wake of a series of events that has left the Los Alamos Police Department with a diminished leadership structure, Taylor has had his hands full doing his job as emergency coordinator while filling in for retiring police Chief Wayne Torpy at the same time.

Torpy, who announced his retirement in May, is currently on sick leave and is due to retire sometime this fall. A lawsuit, filed this week by police officer Brian Schamber accused former LAPD Commander Randy Foster and Lt. Scott Mills of an outright power grab for the chief and deputy chief positions while Torpy was hospitalized for an extended period due to a stroke he suffered late last year.

The suit alleges Foster had Schamber forcibly committed to a mental institution for an evaluation, essentially to make it easier for Foster to take over as chief. Foster was eventually terminated following an internal investigation and Mills is currently on an extended leave from the department.

As far as morale within the ranks of the department is concerned, Taylor said it’s as good as can be expected under the circumstances.

“It’s been better, understandably, it’s been rocked, because there’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” he said. “If you’re working here in the police department, and you’ve been hit with everything that we’ve been hit with within the last year, that’s going to have some negative effects. That’s undeniable.”

Taylor added the way he’s been able to cope with the fallout is keeping the department’s core operations intact.

“I can’t deny reality, but at the same time, the functions of a police department just don’t go away,” he said. “We still have to do our jobs, and we’re doing that. Given the uncertainty, we still have to perform our mission, which is to provide law enforcement services to the citizens of Los Alamos County. My other objective is to hand over a reasonably well-functioning police department to the next chief of police, and I intend on doing that.”

As far as maintaining partnerships with the community’s major institutions are concerned, nothing has changed, especially when it comes to its partnership with the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Taylor noted they are still actively involved in the lab’s frequent safety drills. They are also currently helping plan for the lab’s 70th anniversary celebration as well as the upcoming nuclear protest demonstrations that occur in early August every year.

“I have meetings with them on a regular basis, and even more phone calls,” he said. “I maintain those connections, and I will always maintain those connections, and I plan on introducing our new chief to those connections. We’re not dropping any balls, we’re still contenders.”

As far as questions about the department’s professionalism and integrity are concerned, Taylor said there has been “no questions whatsoever.” He said there have been plenty of questions about Police Chief Wayne Torpy’s absence.

“We’ve had one of the players who’s been an integral part of these discussions, at least for the past eight years, who’s no longer in the picture any more, and so there is a vacuum,” Taylor said. “They rightfully want to know can we still maintain those commitments and still do the job minus the leadership and direction we had under Chief Torpy and my position is, we are absolutely going to maintain the connections and absolutely provide the support.”
As for the actual search for a police chief, Taylor said they are just now getting a tentative interview schedule together for September.

“There will candidate presentations and all kinds of stuff to try and vet these folks, and there will be many of them,” he said.

“It will be a fairly exhaustive and extensive process. ...In the meantime, my job will be to keep the ship in the middle of the channel and keep it from running up on the rocks.”

Meanwhile, Taylor will also have to do his other job as emergency coordinator for the county as well. County Administrator Harry Burgess has said they’ve helped Taylor by giving him some assistance.

“...We’ve also detailed one of my two acting deputy county administrators to support Phil,” Burgess said. “We are trying to take the stress off him when it comes to some of the aspects of being a chief, particularly human resources, budgeting and other organizationally specific types of tasks we are handling out of my office. With that, I do believe we have the necessary people in place to continue until we select a new police chief.”

Burgess also said though the department is also without a deputy chief position, the department does have its proper number of four commanders, even though Mills is currently out on leave.

“Mills is still employed by the county,” Burgess said. As for the deputy chief position, Burgess said one of the new police chief’s responsibilities will be to fill that position.

“The department has been through a restructuring,” he said. “For a period there, we had five commanders because we were in the process of looking at a deputy chief position. Where we find ourselves today is we want to fill the chief position and then allow them to fill that deputy chief position.”