By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times –
LAS VEGAS — The waitresses at Penny’s Diner in Vaughn, N.M., have heard all the jokes: The town’s new police chief has fleas, four legs and likes to go fetch.
Everybody’s laughing, but the truth is that a drug-sniffing dog now is the only certified member of the police force in this small town about 100 miles east of Albuquerque.
Police Chief Ernest “Chris” Armijo resigned last week after it was learned that he wasn’t allowed to carry a gun because he owed tens of thousands of dollars in delinquent child support payments in Texas. He also faces charges of selling a town-owned rifle and pocketing the cash.
The town’s attorney said the whole mess was “distracting” for the chief, and so out he went.
State officials say that, in the regular chief lawman’s absence, the only qualified member of the Vaughn Police Department is Nikka, a drug-sniffing dog.
Vaughn’s other officer isn’t certified and pleaded guilty to charges of assault and battery last year. Noncertified officers can’t make arrests and can’t carry firearms.
And now Penny’s manager Tracie Gallegos and her server staff have to endure all the wiseacre, knee-slapping jokes from customers.
“We’ve heard them all,” Gallegos said. “Around town, people just think this whole episode is ridiculous — they’re shaking their heads, but the jokes keep coming.”
Gallegos says Vaughn is a quiet town with little crime. It is set deep in what officials from U.S. Homeland Security Investigations say is an isolated region popular with drug traffickers.
Officials say the desolate roads in Guadalupe County make it hard to catch smugglers moving drugs from Mexico.
But nobody in town feels threatened.
Officials say the two-legged police chief might be back if he clears up the latest charges. But for now, Penny’s Diner remains Comedy Central.
“Don’t get me wrong, Nikka is a nice dog — she’s a good dog,” Gallegos said. “But the smart alecks won’t let up. I’ve told the waitresses to smile and just go about their business when they hear the jokes because some are getting defensive when people make fun of their town.”
So are people waiting for Nikka to make her first arrest?
“Really?” Gallegos said. “We’re just waiting for all this attention to go away.”