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In recent weeks, it has come to light that some members of the Los Alamos County Council would like to pursue modifications to the city-county charter to do away with the position of Los Alamos County Sheriff.
The motives behind such a move are unclear.
The County Sheriffs Office has received written notification of this action. Thus far, we have not seen a publicized announcement of the council’s intentions in this matter.
The county sheriff is an elected position. If the council decides to move forward, one would hope that it is done through a referendum and voted upon by the general public.
This editorial is to alert voters and help educate the public.
Federalism in the United States is the evolving relationship between U.S. state governments and the federal government of the United States.
The basic philosophy being that the U.S. government ought to be limited to its enumerated powers and that all others belonged to the states.
The enumerated powers are a list of items found in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that set forth the authoritative capacity of the United States Congress.
In summary, congress may exercise the powers to which it is granted by the constitution, and subject to explicit restrictions in the Bill of Rights and other protections found in the constitutional text.
The 10th Amendment states that all prerogatives not vested in the federal government nor prohibited of the states are reserved to the states and to the people, which means that the only prerogatives of the congress (as well as the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch) are limited to those explicitly stated in the constitution.
Both the 16th and the 17th amendments bolster the power of the national government, and further defines state and federal powers.
Since the founding of the country, and particularly with the end of the American Civil War, power has shifted away from the states and toward the national government.
The New Mexico State Constitution has a very similar structure. It enumerates the powers of the state government and further defines the powers of the state and the counties.
Los Alamos County is then a bit different in that it has a city-county charter. Legislative and executive powers rest within the elected county council and its chairman.
Enforcement of the legislation enacted by the council is then charged to duly elected officials.
These are the county sheriff, the county clerk, the magistrate and other judges.
Each of these duly elected positions then takes an oath of office to serve and protect the people and the United States constitution, (which is the “law of the land”) as well as to support the New Mexico Constitution and the city-county charter, its bylaws and ordinances.
By constitutional mandate, by separation of powers, the county sheriff has ultimate law enforcement abilities within his/her jurisdiction.
This separation of powers was intended by our founding fathers as a way to enforce the enumerated powers dividing federal, state and local powers.
If the elected position of the county sheriff were to be done away with, it would take a modification of the city-county charter.
Powers enumerated to the position would need to go to others. The choices are the Los Alamos Police Department, the State Police or Federal Law Enforcement.
The Los Alamos Police Department answers to the county administrator (not an elected position). They already have limited powers enumerated by the city-county charter.
They are professionals with no duly elected officials representing the people of the county within their ranks. The State Police are currently under-manned and over prescribed.
Further, their oath is to the state. They enforce state law and are under no obligation to enforce county by-laws or ordinances.
The Federal Law Enforcement Agencies: In recent years several counties in the United States have “federalized” the county sheriffs office. This does not work.
A federal marshal has taken an oath to enforce federal legislation.
Separation of powers, and enumeration under the United States and State of New Mexico constitutions limits their authority to violations of Federal Law.
They are not duly elected and do not represent the city-county or State.
In conclusion, if the council decides to do away with the position of the county sheriff, they will be doing away with the only empowered law enforcement position solely responsible to protect and serve the people of this county above all others.
They would be removing one of the layers of protection afforded to us by the United States and New Mexico State constitutions. They would be removing their own right arm.
We all know that Los Alamos County is a very different place.
With Los Alamos National Laboratory being the primary employer, many of us need to deal with an array of Federal Law Enforcement Authorities already. Add to that the Pro-Force, the Los Alamos Police Department, the State Police and, because of our unique location, the Tribal Police, we all feel pretty safe at night.
However, none of these organizations will protect you as a citizen of this county above all others. The county sheriff does.