For months, the San Miguel County Commission has been considering whether the Sheriff’s Department should use Tasers.
Last week, the commission held a public hearing on the electroshock weapon. Sheriff Benjie Vigil invited several other sheriffs; speaking for them was the director of the New Mexico Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, Jim Burleson.
Burleson’s message was simple: The sheriff should decide whether to use Tasers, not the County Commission.
“The selection of bullets, the selection of a nightstick, the selection of boots that are to be used in the practice of law enforcement are ordinarily in the providence and sole discretion of the agency head, particularly one who has been elected by the people,” Burleson told the commission.
Let’s assume Burleson is correct. The sheriff could then unilaterally decide to use Tasers and does so without drafting an effective policy limiting their use. As a result, his deputies use the weapons recklessly. And victims file lawsuits.
So who has to deal with the lawyers?
Certainly not the sheriff. Rather, the county would get that dubious honor.
As such, it’s very much in the commission’s interest — and by extension, the public’s — to involve itself in decisions related to potential liability. The commission’s job is to hold down liability costs — if it doesn’t, the county’s insurance premiums would go through the roof. And that would mean the county would have less money for its other essential functions. Ultimately, the taxpayers would lose.
Also, military and paramilitary organizations should be subject to civilian authority. That’s what makes our country great. An unrestrained military or police force almost certainly means less freedom for the people.
Sure, the image of a Wild West sheriff is one of absolute control. But that’s just fiction. In the real world, sheriffs are held accountable just like any other official.
The commission is absolutely right to make the decision on the use of Tasers. It has a responsibility to the taxpayers.