PD criticized for enforcing seat belt law

New officer sworn in

By Teresa L. Benns
CENTER — The Center Town Board meeting opened up Tuesday with the swearing in of a new police officer, Mike Ruybal.
Ruybal has been in law enforcement for 12 years and was raised in Alamosa. He has worked locally for the Del Norte and Monte Vista police departments. Ruybal’s wife Heidi, daughter Adysen and son Asher attended the ceremony.
The meeting then moved to the police report, given by acting police chief Tim Arellano. Trustee Bill McClure questioned the usefulness of grants for seat belt enforcement, alleging that citizens have complained they are stopped on a ruse then cited for not wearing their seatbelts.
He also objected to the fact officers are paid $30 to $50 overtime for doing what the town of Center already pays them to do. McClure claims Center citizens are being harassed and must pay expensive, unnecessary fines while police officers get rich on overtime.
One police officer cautioned McClure not to confuse harassment with probable cause.
Trustee Jaime Hurtado, a former police officer, told McClure that the program is a way to keep people safe and in the course of their regular duties officers do not always have the time to enforce this particular law.
“The grants are tools to create awareness,” Town Administrator Brian Lujan observed. “CDOT pays overtime because these are outside duties for officers with normal schedules.” The actual overtime money paid to police comes out of the grant money for the project.  
Arellano explained that seatbelt laws are secondary laws meaning tickets for non-use can only be written if drivers ae pulled over for some other violation. Responding to the comment by B. McClure that officers don’t even wear seatbelts or use their turn signals, one of Arellano’s officers explained that officers are “exempt” from seat belt laws.
Trustee James Sanchez said the board must consider the “what if” factor, meaning residents could suffer mistreatment from officers as McClure alleged. Lujan told Sanchez “what if” is not a factor, and it is not the town board against its own police department. “The biggest ‘what if’ is if [a person stopped] is a friend or relative of someone on the board,” Lujan noted.
Mayor Herman Sisneros told McClure there does not need to be any approval of grants from the state. He reminded Sanchez and McClure that Center Police have had a busy month and have done a good job of protecting the town. “The more police out, the better off we are,” Sisneros concluded.
J. Sanchez responded that it would be nice if police officers lived in town. The argument has been posed several times before, but never resolved. Hurtado commented that Center does not have resources like the bog cities. Lujan pointed out that the town cannot afford to have officers afraid to make judgment calls out there.
Trustee Adeline Sanchez remarked that she supports police, but they have a responsibility to the public. She suggested the board sit down with police officers and address issues that have some members of the board concerned.
Lujan said the board cannot expect officers to jeopardize the shields they have sworn to uphold as long as they follow Colorado Code.
J. Sanchez said he is not talking about probable cause, only pettiness.
Lujan said a meeting would be scheduled with police to address any problems.

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