Council moves process-serving to LAPD

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Sheriff’s office will retain sex-offender monitoring duties

By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos County Council passed a resolution on Tuesday that transfers process-serving duties from the Los Alamos Sheriff’s Office to the Los Alamos Police Department.
The principal job of a process server is to deliver or “serve” legal documents to a defendant or person involved in a court case.
The sheriff will continue to monitor sex offenders as delegated by statute.
The motion passed 4−1, with Councilor Pete Sheehey opposed. Councilors David Izraelevitz and James Chrobocinski were not present.
Sheehey argued that the issue should be postponed until June 14, when Sheriff Marco Lucero, Izraelevitz and Chrobocinski could attend. He cited the short notice given for Tuesday’s item (it was posted with the agenda on Friday) and the fact that no operational or legal analysis has been done.
“I make a motion to table this item until the next regularly scheduled meeting, June 14, when both this item and the previous related item regarding a charter amendment on the sheriff can be fully prepared by all the departments, the sheriff and others can be here to make their case,” Sheehey said.
Council votes on a ballot issue to eliminate the sheriff’s office entirely on June 14.
Sheehey’s motion failed for lack of a second.
Sheehey also questioned County Manager Harry Burgess about what the move would cost.
Burgess responded that costs could not be determined without putting the plan in action, after which LAPD could evaluate such things as whether warrants could be served as part of normal duties.
Public comment was mixed on the issue.
Two people, including county council candidate Antonio Maggiore, agreed with Sheehey on postponing a decision.
“This is something that should be considered by the whole body, not by the five that are here,” Maggiore said.
George Chandler said the resolution was “desperately needed” and advocated for also moving sex offenders monitoring to LAPD.
Robert Gibson urged council to consider the risks inherent to the current system, both to deputies and the general public.
“Part of that risk stems from the potential confusion as to the proper role of sheriff’s office personnel in this county, as distinct from their traditional roles elsewhere…past sheriffs have indicated that if, while executing their civil functions, their personnel saw criminal activity or a citizen asked them for help, they would address the situation,” Gibson said. “That puts well-meaning but usually untrained and uncertified personnel into additional risky situations and could delay summoning the PD.”
Undersheriff John Horne argued that current deputies are not untrained.
“There’s more than 85 years of combined law enforcement experience at the sheriff’s office…To say that we are untrained and unprepared to deal with things is simply a false statement,” Horne said.
Lucero confirmed to the Los Alamos Monitor that Horne is a current certified member of the New Mexico Mounted Patrol.
Another deputy is a retired sheriff from Washington State, one is retired from the mounted patrol and another is employed in fire protection for Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Lucero himself retired from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s department after 22 years.
Sheehey also cited the training of current sheriff’s personnel.
“Whether the sheriff and his deputies are serving a warrant, or police officers, there is risk. They know this,” Sheehey said. “The sheriff’s training is the same as our police officers get, and I think there’s mutual respect between those two groups. And they are very careful.”
Although the majority of the current deputies have a law enforcement background, the county charter has no requirement for the sheriff or deputies to have law enforcement background, training or certification.
Horne pointed out that there have been no complaints against the sheriff’s office during Lucero’s five years in office and objected to council considering the issue without giving the sheriff’s office time to prepare for it.
“I’d like to let you know that any attempt to transfer duties from the sheriff’s office or to eliminate the sheriff’s office will be met with vigorous opposition,” Horne said.
All four councilors who voted for the amendment cited liability concerns as their main issue, as well as a statement in Lucero’s budget report that read, “The sheriff’s office does not have a budget to cover and properly protect deputies” and a request for radios to address that.
“If serving warrants is considered to require law enforcement equipment and poses a liability for the county, then I think this council needs to take the steps necessary to remove those functions and assign them to the police department, which is our official law enforcement agency in our county,” Vice Chair Susan O’Leary said.
O’Leary stated that just before Lucero made his presentation at the budget hearings she had witnessed Lucero and a deputy serving a warrant.
“Sheriff Lucero was knocking on the door and the deputy sheriff was standing in the yard of this person with his hand on his personal weapon providing backup to the sheriff.
“I saw that and I thought, ‘Oh, my God. If it’s that dangerous to serve warrants that our sheriff needs an armed backup on personal property, then this county has tremendous liability by having the sheriff and his deputies perform this function.’
“It was very upsetting. It would have been even more upsetting if I had been behind the door of that house and opened the door as a citizen and seen that in my front yard.”
Henderson also argued that the liability issue needed to be addressed.
“There are only two ways to address that. One is to move those obligations to the police department, which is fully trained and is our law enforcement authority, or to beef up the sheriff’s department and have two overlapping law enforcement departments, and I don’t think that is an appropriate solution,” Henderson said.
Councilor Steve Girrens and Chair Rick Reiss agreed.
“Our major investment and our major backing is in our premier police department, and I just don’t understand why you would have almost a volunteer, almost for minimal pay, deputy support system when you could take advantage of your premier police department,” Girrens said.
“We have citizens and deputies that need to be protected, and we actually have an opportunity that’s clear as a bell to fix a liability for an issue that might come back to bite us,” Reiss said. “And using folks that might have more equipment – more cars, more radios, more bulletproof vests, any number of things that we are unable and unwilling to provide to the sheriff’s department because we have overlapping duties – makes this a legitimate action.”
Henderson also argued against postponing the issue.
“I do think it makes a difference if we do this today or put it off for another month, if tomorrow’s the day that something tragic happens,” Henderson said.
Sheehey said that using Lucero’s past requests for radios and a patrol car to justify reassigning duties was “disingenuous.”
“To say that by asking for things that would enhance safety he’s saying that he can’t do the job safely is just a misinterpretation of his words. It’s disrespectful,” Sheehey said.
When the motion passed, Reiss noted that it had the four votes necessary to pass a motion even when council is fully seated.
When asked for comment, Lucero said only, “I think it stinks, of course. It reeks of underhanded, backdoor dirty politics, and I would expect that from Girrens and Reiss and O’Leary, but I am disappointed to see that Henderson has joined their ranks.”