Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone at a June 6 protest at Ashley Pond Pavilion. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone read two letters he recently released to local media into the record during Tuesday’s virtual Los Alamos Council meeting.
Council Chair Sara Scott, in welcoming Sgambellone, said that “while we consider ourselves a safe and tolerant community, Los Alamos has residents who, as elsewhere and for good reasons, fear not only injustice and violence but have to deal with daily unconscious bias against people of color”.
“I hope your words, your willingness to come here tonight to emphasize the values of your department and Council’s desires to underscore these values in forums such as this, will speak to all of us regarding your unfailing promotion of safety and civility for those living and working in our community,” Scott said. “The Council commits to working with the community, the County Manager and the Chief of Police to identify and implement both policy changes and community outreach and support to address unconscious bias in our county.”
Sgambellone noted that LAPD is one of the five percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
“Our standards address our recruitment and hiring processes. They help us to hire the best people possible and to hire individuals from diverse backgrounds. They address the training of these employees – including use of force issues – and how to understand policy, address the role of supervisors and their responsibility to ensure our officers properly perform their duties,” he said. “Through counseling, remedial training or taking more serious disciplinary action, they are tasked with ensuring that our officers’ behavior and performance is in compliance with the highest standards in our profession.”
Sgambellone said LAPD conducts reviews and analyses on such areas as use of force, pursuits and complaints to determine if there are any patterns or trends related to training, equipment needs or policy needs that need to be addressed.
“We hire great people, train them well, and supervise them properly. We are human like anyone else. Those who do not perform up to expectations are provided opportunities to improve their performance or are no longer members of our Department. The accreditation process can always show us where we can improve as can maintaining an effective dialogue within the community,” he said.
Sgambellone said he is proud of the Department’s employees and thanks them and their families for their sacrifice.
“Having a career in public safety is not easy. It’s not easy for the employee and it’s not easy on the family. Yet, and for the record, the Los Alamos Police Department strives hard to exceed the expectations of this community through professional, impartial and unbiased performance of our duty, a duty that we are bound to by oath,” he said. “As chief, it is my goal that all Los Alamos citizens and visitors will look upon the Department not in fear but knowing we stand with the community in service.”
He noted that he is always ready to meet with any citizen or citizen group as well as take emails and phone calls.
“To that end, I look forward to continued collaborative efforts with our community partners and with the community as a whole,” Sgambellone said.
Councilor Katrina Martin said she is incredibly pleased with LAPD’s response to local protests and that she appreciates Sgambellone’s openness and transparency about local policies, his openness to reform and his condemnation of the use of excessive force.
Councilor Antonio Maggiore said he appreciates Sgambellone’s willingness to sit down and engage in public dialogue.
“I know that in our isolated community of 18,000 people and a small minority population, what strikes me is not so much concerns about our use of force. My concern is the amount of posts I see on Facebook that are like, ‘I saw suspicious people from the Valley driving around my neighborhood’. If we are to really be a welcoming, woke, honest community, and if we’re really going to be honest with ourselves, in my mind that is why I fought to have the unconscious bias language in there,” he said.
Maggiore said it’s wonderful to see people over at the pond protesting for Black Lives and that he wholeheartedly supports that.
“But behind Black Lives is all lives of people of color, and that includes our neighbors in the Valley, that includes the immigrants that come and work at the Lab, and the more we can work at a community level to eradicate that fear and distrust, that’s really what I want us to work on and it has to start at a young age in the schools,” he said. “That to me is the pressing concern in our community. It’s not our use of force policy because those are almost never exercised.”
Maggiore said he knows it wastes Sgambellone’s time to be told that there’s someone driving around in a neighborhood.
“So that’s where I would like to see focus placed. Thank you so much for being so publicly supportive, quite frankly. As cliché as the video is of the sheriff in Flint, it does help the community have that sense of confidence in you, and your officers do a fantastic job protecting and serving this community,” he said.
Council Vice Chair Pete Sheehey said, “We get it – Black Lives Matter. I think it’s clear that Chief Sgambellone and our Department also get it, that community policing, involving themselves with everyone in the community is the way that we prevent the outrageous incidents happening”.
“I too want to compliment him and his force. I will say that since Chief Sgambellone came to this time, he has pointed many young officers in a much better direction. We are lucky that we have him and lucky that they have listened to him,” Sheehey said. “We can get past this. We do need to look at our own policies and we do need to look at our own souls and how we look upon not just the people in our town but the people surrounding us in New Mexico. We’re capable of that, we’re a good community and I think we should be proud of that even as we deal with these serious issues.”
Councilor Randy Ryti said he appreciated both the letters Sgambellone released as well as the attitude and his just being open to community input.
“I guess I re-echo the councilors appreciation of this moment we’re in and trying to make sure we’re doing the best that we can having justice for everybody in town and being open-minded. Thank you for being an example for us,” he told Sgambellone.