Wednesday, February 8, 2017

More on the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office

I had written two recent Sunday columns (and blog posts) on the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office, Problems Again at Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office and Doña Ana County SWAT Team Hampered by Unusual Ground Rules.  Sheriff Vigil had declined to return my phone calls but did publish this response Sunday in the Las Cruces Sun-News. 

I have long agreed with Sheriff Vigil that DASO law-enforcement personnel should be better paid. I also advocated fairer treatment for them under the previous sheriff. I voted for Mr. Vigil.
Sheriff Vigil also misread my initial column if he thought it was about sacking Undersheriff Lerma. That's Vigil's prerogative; but eliminating Lerma and installing Roberts has proven unwise.   I'm no expert on running a law-enforcement agency. Maybe Vigil could have appointed someone who was a vast improvement over Lerma (although Lerma had extensive pertinent experience). But unfortunately that isn't what Sheriff Vigil did, according to all but one of the folks I've talked to.

Below, I've taken excerpts from Sheriff Vigil's column, mostly italicized, and added my response to his comments:

As I've noted, I repeatedly sought to discuss these matters with Mr. Vigil. He states now that he “decided not to interview with Mr. Goodman because I feel he has not been objective in previous columns he has written concerning the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office. I cannot discuss pending litigation or personnel matters. Finally, we cannot compromise officer safety by revealing tactical strategies with respect to SWAT operations.”
Objectivity: I have striven to be objective. I hope and believe I've succeeded. I have no political or personal animus toward Mr. Vigil, for whom I voted. Further, he knows of things that I did not publicize, or delayed publicizing, during his battles with county administration; and others have criticized me for writing too sympathetically to Sheriff Vigil. (I recall criticizing certain positions he took in lawsuits; but I said essentially what judges later wrote in their decisions – so unless he also considers all those judges biased, then this can't be the basis for his allegation.) In any case, I invite Sheriff Vigil to point to some specific evidence, such as something I've written that's false and negative concerning him. He offers none.
I agree that Sheriff Vigil is severely limited in what he can say about pending litigation or personnel matters. That can be unfair: an aggrieved employee can speak privately, but a supervisor risks legal problems if s/he does so.  Thus to some degree we must wait and see; but the sheer numbers of people who are gone or unhappy should be of concern to anyone who cares about good law-enforcement.
However, it's pure nonsense to say he “cannot compromise officer safety by revealing tactical strategies with respect to SWAT operations.” First of all, the basic “tactical strategies” are outlined on the website of the National Tactical Officers Association, taught in classes, and studied extensively.   Second, my IPRA request yielded documents, with only the names of certain parties redacted for reasons I agree thoroughly with. IPRA has an exception for investigatory documents that reveal confidential sources or methods.  If there were confidential SWAT team methods revealed by those documents, they should have been redacted; but there were none.

I agree with much of what Sheriff Vigil says:
“I promised changes in DASO. These changes were transforming DASO from a traffic citation quota system into a department that is engaged in community-oriented policing.”  I agree with his de-emphasis of traffic tickets. (In my youth I got too many of them.)

I agree thoroughly that DASO law-enforcement personnel should be better paid. I've said so often. I was troubled by the County's appeal of If there's a way I can help, let me know.

I agree that Ken Roberts makes a good first impression. We first met him as we emerged from voting for someone else in the Democratic Primary for Sheriff, He was standing by a truck advertising his own candidacy. During our brief conversation, he thoroughly looked and sounded the part. I immediately wondered whether maybe we should have voted for him. I just wish Roberts's positive qualities were turned toward more often toward improvement of the department.

Unfortunately, he apparently hasn't panned out so well. In discussing him with others recently, “ambitious” and “vindictive” are the most common words in the conversation. “There's just something really wrong with that guy,” a non-DASO person who has dealt with Roberts complained to me this week.

Obviously I disagree that Roberts has demonstrated “leadership.” I did have one person contact me to defend Roberts, and passionately argue that he was doing a great job; but most accounts have been sadly different from that. Real-life “leadership” is a more complex skill than Mr. Vigil suggests, and while it can occasionally create widespread resentment, as it does in the movies when a tough but fair military commander forces pilots to their limits because he must, that kind of resentment more often develops from bad management or the kind of “cronyism” some accuse Vigil and Roberts of.

Nor was his background auspicious. Here, folks who've worked with him generally didn't rate him highly as a detective. Undersheriff Roberts was also a policeman for several years in Shawnee, Oklahoma, many years ago. That ended badly. Demoted, he sued the department; and his lawsuit did so badly that he ended up getting ordered to pay money rather than collect it. He also went to the Border Patrol School several years ago, but apparently never got hired and never returned to try again. And he was apparently in the military police, with the Air Force.

Sheriff Vigil's “defense” on the SWAT Team debacle was no defense at all. A better defense would have been to admit the facts, call this a glitch or an exception, and state that Roberts will trust what the men on the ground are telling him a little more next time.

I applaud Sheriff Vigil's desire “to develop and oversee programs that promote positive community outreach and race relations.” However, he adds, “Unfortunately, the current county management has interfered and thus far prevented us from achieving these much needed goals.” If he ever talks with me again, I hope to hear more about that.

I'm also puzzled by some of his comments.

He says he “received numerous complaints from the public” when he appointed Eddie Lerma as his undersheriff; but my IPRA request to DASO for complaints from the public about Lerma yielded none.  

He says Ken Roberts “was the favorite candidate among the progressives. Ironically, Mr. Goodman is now questioning his qualifications and professionalism.” I had never heard that Roberts was the favorite among progressives. I saw candidates J.R. Stewart and Curtis Childress most often at the P.V.A.

He writes, “The state Department of Public Safety has my credentials and certifications. I completed the required courses provided by the New Mexico Association of Counties and the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association in January of 2015.” However, (a) oral and written IPRA requests to the Attorney-General, the state police academy, DASO, and the County yielded no hint that he'd taken the Sheriff's Association course in January of 2015. In fact, I thought the NMAC course and the NMSA courses both occurred in the second week of December 2014, making it tough to attend both.

I wish Sheriff Vigil well.  He holds an important position in our community, and can improve or weaken law enforcement and the relationships between law-enforcement and citizens.  I believe he has some good intentions.  I also believe he's made some mistakes.  He has nearly two full years left in his term, and I hope those will be so successful that if he seeks re-election we all avidly support his campaign.  

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