In late July, some Doña Ana County Sheriff's Deputies played in a basketball tournament in Las Vegas, which you and I helped pay for.
Some other deputies weren't too thrilled. Nevada seemed too far away for the event to help improve cop-community relations. They also found it odd that, although the players who'd been scheduled to work initially put in for vacation time, approved by their supervisors, their time records were later changed to reflect regular work. (Union President Sergeant Ben Casillas changed all the time records except his own, and Undersheriff Ken Roberts changed Casillas's.) Other deputies had actually worked 10-hour shifts for their money.
Some felt it was unfair and illegal: that if the trip was a departmental activity, it should have been more widely advertised within the department; and that if it wasn't, why did the public end up paying for it? Further, it's well known that Roberts and Casillas are close. Adding to the confusion, around that time Casillas sustained a leg injury that reportedly required changes in his duties for awhile.
I got curious, of course. I asked for and received documents, including Kronos records that confirmed the belated change from vacation to regular time. ( I also received emails I haven't been able to open yet.)
Casillas confirmed some of the information and denied some. He admitted there was no department-wide advertising of the tournament, just “word-of-mouth.” He said that participating in the Police and Firemen's Games was a positive thing for the department, and that he'd spoken to Sheriff Enrique Vigil (not to Roberts) about that. Vigil authorized the change to regular time.
He also denied that he was injured in the tournament. He said he was injured playing basketball, but not during the Vegas tournament, which he didn't play in because he was sick. (He declined to say whether he'd put in for workman's comp, but his statement that he hadn't been injured while working seemed to suggest strongly that he hadn't.)
I asked him how the trip benefited the department. He said that “law enforcement agencies participate in a lot of other things that do not involve your typical work duties.” He cited local events, including Law Enforcement Night Out and participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, plus representing the department at funerals.
I said I could see calling, say, a neighborhood versus DASO softball game as a community activity. But Las Vegas, Nevada?
He said that there was a benefit to the department. That playing enabled deputies to mingle with other law-enforcement entities, and build relationships with some of those entities, some of which were from neighboring Arizona. He said these Games were “like the law-enforcement Olympics” and that participating “put the department on the map” with others, including big-city agencies. (It was a highly-competitive tournament.)
He also pointed out: that although men scheduled to work who'd taken vacation time ended up getting paid, no one who hadn't been scheduled to work those days was paid anything for going; that having the agency pay for players to participate was common, according to what he heard from players from other cities; and that while DASO's players paid for their own travel and got only their regular pay if they'd been scheduled, some larger-city departments paid for the trip and gave their players per diem as well.
Talking to Casillas, I got the sense that there's some dissension in the union. I'd heard long ago that some members weren't keen on his closeness to management, and thought he'd gotten special treatment from management. (Roberts preceded him as local union president.)
[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 15 October 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website. A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and KTAL-LP.]
[Certainly some at DASO were displeased with the way this trip went down, and the belated change to the way people's time was characterized. On the other hand, Casillas says it was reasonable and that the change wasn't intended to be belated. Not my job to decide, just to shine some light on these events.]
[I got the sense from Casillas that he viewed the complaints as related to a possible challenge to his presidency of the local union. If there is such a challenge, it may prove interesting to see how that comes out. There's an unusual history: Sheriff Vigil fired his previous undersheriff and appointed then-union-head Ken Roberts undersheriff. Roberts and Casillas are reportedly pretty close. (Certainly some have complained about cronyism.) Whether that level of closeness between management and the union is healthy or unhealthy isn't for me to decide, although it would seem a bit unusual. Since many have complained about Roberts's management, the results might suggest something about how widespread the negative feelings are. I forget whether or not it's a secret ballot, although I think it is.]
[For those keeping score, it was a very competitive tournament, with teams from Los Angeles, Chicago, and other big cities. DASO's team stood little chance against some very tall teams that had played together in such tournaments a lot over the course of several years.]