Sheriff Kim Stewart
The following opinion is nothing personal against Sheriff Kim Stewart, but a professional observation based on 22 years as a cop and time spent in the Marine Corps, where, believe it or not, they teach a thing or two about leadership. As you read this, bear in mind this Lonsway-ism: Where leadership fails, organizations fail. Also keep in mind the adage that a good leader never asks subordinates to do something that the leader has not done, or is not willing to do, himself.
Sheriff Kim Stewart chased a motorist in a residential neighborhood at speeds up to 70 mph for several miles without the use of emergency lights or siren for a misdemeanor violation of exceeding the posted speed limit. The minivan she was chasing passed her on West Picacho at what she described as excessive speed while she was in her unmarked DASO unit. She decided to pull it over, except that she couldn't because her emergency equipment did not work. She doesn't say what the initial speed of the violator was, only that while she chased the minivan it reached speeds of 70 mph over the course of the chase.
What's wrong with this picture? Several things. New Mexico statute provides police officers with the authority to pull over a motorist provided that certain conditions are met, and one of those conditions is that the emergency vehicle use lights and siren to affect the stop: https://law.justia.com/codes/new-mexico/2011/chapter66/article7/section66-7-6/
More importantly, NM 29-20-4, which pertains to police pursuits, reads as follows: (italics are my emphasis)
(1) a law enforcement officer may initiate a high speed pursuit to apprehend a suspect who the officer has reasonable grounds to believe poses a clear and immediate threat of death or serious injury to others or who the officer has probable cause to believe poses a clear and immediate threat to the safety of others that is ongoing and that existed prior to the high speed pursuit;
(2) a law enforcement officer shall not initiate or continue a high speed pursuit when the immediate danger to the officer and the public created by the high speed pursuit exceeds the immediate danger to the public if the occupants of the motor vehicle being pursued remain at large;
(3) when deciding whether to initiate or continue a high speed pursuit, the following factors, at a minimum, shall be taken into consideration:
(a) the seriousness of the offense for which the high speed pursuit was initiated;
(b) whether a suspect poses a clear and immediate threat of death or serious injury to others;
(c) road, weather, environmental and vehicle conditions;
(d) the amount of motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic; and
(e) knowledge of the suspect's identity, possible destination and previous activities that may make apprehension at a later time feasible; and
(4) no more than two law enforcement vehicles shall become actively involved in a high speed pursuit, unless specifically authorized by a supervisor.
Here is 29-20-4 in its entirety: https://codes.findlaw.com/nm/chapter-29-law-enforcement/nm-st-sect-29-20-4.html
What would your average citizen do if being chased by a person in a car when they have no idea what the person following them wants, or what their intentions will be if they pull over? I would be asking myself if the person chasing me was angry or upset, and if I stop is it going to turn into a violent confrontation? I don't fault the motorist for not pulling over initially, although he finally took it upon himself to do so well into the chase. He took several turns and even executed a U-turn before stopping. Stewart was in uniform and perhaps he saw that when he made the turn (or does the sheriff have tinted windows like so many other DASO units and he stopped just to see why she was following him at high rates of speed?).
I live in Picacho Hills. I don't want unmarked police cars without emergency equipment speeding down residential streets at 70 mph because they want to pull someone over for a misdemeanor traffic ticket. I'm also a retired deputy chief of police. If an LCPD officer had done this there would likely be disciplinary action for disregarding the law (not to mention the failure of common sense). It doesn't matter how shiny that little tin on the sheriff's blouse is, because if she doesn't have emergency equipment activated there is no authority for the stop. The guy pulled over on his own, not because he had to but probably because he was getting fed up with being chased around. Stewart stepped out in uniform, drew down (how often does an officer draw a gun from the holster for a misdemeanor traffic violation?), identified herself as the sheriff and told him to stay in his car. He did not stay in his car. He stepped out and began recording her with his cell phone. When he stepped out she pointed her firearm at him. No attempt at dialogue, no effort to engage verbally, just yelling commands and pointing her firearm.
As a cop and knowing my emergency equipment was not working, I would not pursue. I have no authority at that point. I would call for any marked unit in the vicinity, give a description of the vehicle, and go on about my business. What Stewart did was irresponsible and dangerous. I have to ask myself, if she doesn't have any better judgment than what was displayed, is she qualified to be head of an agency?
We don't know what transpired because Stewart did not, and does not, wear a body cam although she requires her deputies to wear one. She said that she and her command staff are not required to wear one because they do not interact on a regular basis with the public and, therefore, are not in violation of the statute. Here is the law:
Other chiefs and sheriffs wear them, but not Stewart.
Going back to October 4, 2020, Stewart was riding her motorcycle (personal vehicle) on a Sunday morning when she came across an accident at Union & Main. She stopped to render aid, as did several other people. The driver who caused the crash by running a red light went to the trunk of his car, pulled out a shotgun, and threatened people on the scene before running a short distance and attempting to carjack a motorcycle and pickup truck. He was unsuccessful in both attempts and ran into a neighborhood across from the intersection.
Stewart, as did several others, called 911. She identified herself as sheriff and asked for units to respond. Deputies found the suspect moments later and shot him. He died a few days later. If I was at the scene of a crime where three felonies were committed and a fellow officer had to shoot the suspect because I was unprepared to deal with the situation, I would feel terrible. I would feel worse if an officer/deputy was injured or killed because of my unpreparedness. Fortunately, that did not happen.
The media gave Stewart a pass, because the obvious question regarding this incident was never asked: was Stewart armed when this happened and if she was why did she not take action? If she was not armed, why wasn't she? Does she require her deputies to be armed off-duty? I'm pretty sure the investigators on this case covered that issue, but that information never became public. Why didn't it?
As I wrote in another post some years back, violence does not make appointments. Violence does not ring you up on Thursday evening and say, "I'll be there Sunday morning at ten, and here's what I will be driving and wearing, and my intentions will be as follows..."
My point in writing that sentence pertains to elections. Winning an election for sheriff does not make you a cop. A law enforcement officer must be mentally and physically prepared to deal with these types of situations. You can tell me that a sheriff is an administrator and need not be prepared for these types of incidents, and I will respond by saying that anyone in uniform is fair game for armed violent criminals and if you want the head-of-agency position a price tag comes with it.
I've said for years that one of the downfalls of DASO is the fact that their leadership is elected. That means anybody can win the position of sheriff regardless of law enforcement experience. For over 30 years DASO has been led by sheriff's who were investigators with no supervisory experience, or by people who had limited first-line supervisory experience. Stewart's bio lists her as having been a patrol officer, field training officer, detective, and DA investigator. The reason I point this out is that anyone who has risen through the ranks in a law enforcement agency, and worked mid-management or executive level management, knows that there is a lot to be aware of and learn about successfully running an agency, not to mention the accompanying training & schools for those positions. But the most important part of the equation is experience.
If you think experience rising through the ranks as a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, deputy chief, etc. is not important in the qualifications for a head-of-agency position, ask yourself this question: when I put my money in a bank, who do I want making decisions about how that bank is run? Do I want that person to be the teller with limited experience; do I want a branch manager who has some knowledge of fiscal policy and basically acts as a first-line supervisor; or do I want that person who has been banking for decades and has risen through the organization, learned the operation, and been promoted based on knowledge, expertise and leadership capabilities?
I know who I'd want, and I think the position of sheriff needs to be taken more seriously by the voters when it comes to selecting who will run a law enforcement agency. Kim Stewart doesn't have it. Nothing personal, merely a professional observation.