Making Democracy Work

Los Alamos Voter Guide 2016: Charter Amendment

The 2016 Los Alamos Charter Amendment

Question No. 1

Shall Articles III, IX, and X of the Charter of the Incorporated County of Los Alamos be amended pursuant to Resolution Number 16-14 related to the office of Sheriff, to amend subsections 304.1 and 304.4, and sections 911 and 1006 to consolidate all remaining powers and duties of the office of sheriff to the police department and to abolish the office of sheriff as an elective office effective January 1, 2019?

Brief Analysis

In 1968 Los Alamos was incorporated with a County Charter. In 1975 the Charter was amended to define the roles of sheriff, police department, and peace officers, saying that the sheriff should not duplicate the duties assigned to the police department (see the precise wording in the third item below) but would execute some civil functions.

On May 24, 2016, the Los Alamos County Council voted to transfer the tasks of process service and lien enforcement (for example, serving summonses and eviction notices) from the office of the sheriff to the police department. The sheriff is still responsible for maintaining and publishing a list of sex offenders. If a majority of the voters vote FOR the proposed charter amendment, that remaining duty will be transferred to the police department in 2019 when the term of the current sheriff ends, and the elective position of sheriff will be abolished.

Arguments For

1.The sheriff is not needed as a "check and balance" against questionable actions taken by other parts of government; other avenues are available for citizen complaints, such as County Councilors or the Attorney General.

2.The traditional understanding of a sheriff as a law enforcement officer and the more limited one outlined by our Charter have led to confusion about the sheriff's role and responsibilities for decades. Confusion can lead to delay in communicating vital information to the police department rapidly.

3.The County Charter currently assigns to the sheriff "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 efforts of some sheriffs to develop the office of sheriff into a professional law enforcement agency have been opposed by County Councils past and present, but the issue is likely to recur unless the position is abolished.

4.Should the sheriff perform an action beyond his statutory duties, the County or the sheriff personally might be liable for a lawsuit.

5.Sheriffs are usually responsible for unincorporated areas in their counties. Los Alamos has no unincorporated areas.

6.The police department can easily take over the remaining duty of the sheriff.

Arguments Against

1.The sheriff is the only elected county official empowered and trained to investigate misbehavior in other county departments.

2.Any communication received by the office of the sheriff from citizens of our county or from other governmental entities is immediately redirected to the police department, if appropriate. The amount of time delay is trivial.

3.Having the sheriff perform civil tasks such as maintaining the sex offender register saves time and money for the police department. Were the office of sheriff maintained, it could be asked to fulfill civil or other duties at a lower rate of pay than police officers.

4.The county incurs no special liability in maintaining a sheriff's office because that office is fully covered by the county's insurance.

5.Sheriffs share jurisdiction with police departments in every county in New Mexico. The lack of unincorporated areas adds no complication.

6.A sheriff in New Mexico has powers outside county borders and ties with other sheriff departments throughout the state. These powers cannot be transferred to the police and so would be lost to the county.