N.M. town’s police force has gone to the dog

VAUGHN, N.M. The police chief of the small eastern New Mexico town of Vaughn resigned last week, leaving the town with just one certified member on its police force a drug-sniffing dog named Nikka.

Dave Romero, attorney for the town, said police Chief Ernest Chris Armijo decided to step down after news stories reported that he wasnt allowed to carry a gun because of his criminal background.

He decided the attention was distracting, Romero said.

State officials said Armijo couldnt carry a gun since acknowledging that he owed tens of thousands of dollars in delinquent child-support payments in Texas. Armijo also faces new felony charges after being accused of selling a town-owned rifle and pocketing the cash.

Romero said Armijo is working to clear up the latest case. He said Armijo has not ruled out seeking the police chiefs position again if his case is resolved and the position is open.

According to records, the only qualified member of the Vaughn Police Department is Nikka, a drug-sniffing dog. Vaughns other officer isnt certified and pleaded guilty to charges of assault and battery last year. Noncertified officers cant make arrests and cant carry firearms.

But Romero said not having an officer qualified to carry a gun didnt put Vaughn at risk.

England doesnt allow police officers to carry guns, he said. Sometimes the strongest weapon in law enforcement is communication.

Vaughn, a town of about 450 located 104 miles east of Albuquerque, is a quiet town that is an overnight stop for railroad workers. And while residents say there is no crime problem, the town is set deep in what U.S. Homeland Security Investigations officials say is an isolated region of the state popular with drug traffickers. Officials say the desolate roads in Guadalupe County make it hard for authorities to catch smugglers moving drugs from Mexico.

Guadalupe County Sheriff Michael Lucero said since news about the police chiefs record became public, his department has helped patrol Vaughn. But he said those efforts have put a slight strain on his already short-staffed department.

I visit the town at least once a month, said Lucero. The important thing is to keep a presence so residents know were there to help if were needed.

Romero said town officials are considering whether to hire another police chief or keep the department staffed with just one officer. He said its unclear whether the town will keep the police dog, which had been in Armijos care.

When approached by a reporter from The Associated Press at his Vaughn home, Armijo said he had no comment, and he declined to grant access to the canine for photographs or video.

The dogs kennel could be seen in Armijos backyard, and a police truck marked K-9 was parked in his driveway.

At Pennys Diner, residents said they were embarrassed by the attention the episode has put on the small town.

Theres just a whole lot of nothing going on here, said cook Joyce Tabor. We have very little crime. Its quiet. So this really doesnt matter.