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A Charter amendment petition that would have allowed sheriff officers who successfully completed Law Enforcement Academy training to assume peace keeping duties was certified insufficient by council last Tuesday.
Sheriff Marco Lucero, who initiated the petition, submitted 377 of the 1,327 required signatures. The petition was circulated from May 2 to Oct. 29, with an additional two weeks allowed to correct the insufficiency. No additional signatures were collected during that period.
The petition was Lucero’s most recent attempt to obtain law enforcement duties for the sheriff’s office. He had proposed this amendment during the Charter Review Committee discussions about the role of sheriff.
The charter reads “The Council shall establish as a department of the County, a Police Department to be charged with conserving the peace and enforcing the laws of the State and the ordinances of the County. The Sheriff shall have those powers and duties assigned to sheriffs by state statutes, including the powers of a peace officer, but the Sheriff shall not duplicate or perform those duties in this Charter or by ordinance or resolution assigned or delegated to the County’s Police Department.”
The duties remaining to the sheriff are largely civil, such as serving court documents and maintaining the sex offender registry.
The CRC had proposed changing the language to clarify that the sheriff’s law enforcement duties assigned by state law were transferred to the police department, except as assigned by council. Members felt the languages should be clarified to avoid incidents such as one earlier this year in which the Federal Marshal contacted Lucero concerning a law enforcement issue that should have been referred to the LAPD.
Some CRC and council members proposed folding the sheriff’s duties into the LAPD and eliminating the sheriff’s department entirely to avoid confusion.
Council agreed with the CRC’s recommendation to keep the sheriff’s duties the same, but voted to keep the original charter language at the recommendation of Brian James, who was acting county attorney at that time. James argued that a 1976 court case upheld the current charter and that any change in language, even to clarify, could subject the new charter to a legal challenge.
During CRC hearings, Lucero contended that the charter violates state law by not allowing the sheriff law enforcement responsibilities. However, the 1976 District Court ruling supported the charter, confirming that the county is allowed to designate who carries out which duties.
The CRC and council felt that adding law enforcement responsibilities for the sheriff would lead to confusion, since not all sheriffs would be qualified for law enforcement. They felt that citizens and outside agencies should have a clear understanding of who to contact regarding law enforcement issue.
Lucero maintains that his amendment would simplify the situation. He also implied again that the charter violates state law.
“I initiated the petition to try to clarify the current charter reading,” Lucero said. “The main reason was there’s confusion in the current charter reading and I wanted to clarify that so that it complied with the state statute.”
Lucero said that collecting signatures was a “heavy task,” but that its failure does not really change anything for him.
“It doesn’t affect me or my current law enforcement authority that I’m verified to do. It doesn’t affect me at all,” Lucero said. “I’m still covered under the state statute, being a certified law enforcement officer. But we have the order of law. We have the state constitution. We have the state statute and then we have city or county ordinances or charters, which comes next.
“I intend to continue doing as I have been doing with my law enforcement authority. I will do my best to keep our children safe in Los Alamos County as well as the entire community. I have continued cooperation from federal state and local law enforcement.
“I was trying to clarify that so in the future it wouldn’t contradict itself by saying the sheriff is afforded all the authority given him by state statute then going back and saying he can’t do law enforcement. It contradicts itself completely, and I’ve been saying that since day one. That’s one of the reasons I was trying to get it changed, so that it’s more clear.”