By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Sheriff-elect Darren Hooker says he always politely corrects anyone who refers to the organization he works for as the sheriff’s department.
He says he works for the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office — a distinction he says is important.
Hooker says the organization isn’t a department of anything — instead it’s an office of trust to the public.
“My big thing within my campaign was to be a sheriff of the people,” said the red-complexioned sheriff-elect. “Therefore my office will be of the people.”
Hooker, who defeated incumbent sheriff Tom Gossett in the Republican primary in June, has worked at the as a deputy at RCSO since 1999. He says he has been hard at work developing a transition plan for taking office in January.
Hooker told the PNT Friday that he will be hiring former Roosevelt County deputy Malin Parker as undersheriff, a position absent from the office since the administration of C.D. Newberry, according to Hooker.
“It’ll give us a second-in-command,” Hooker said. “Malin will be able to come in and work within the chain (of command).”
Parker left RCSO in April 2004, according to a previous PNT story, over differences with current sheriff Tom Gossett. He is currently a deputy with the Curry County Sheriff’s Office assigned to the Region V Drug Task Force. He says he has been a certified deputy since 1999 when he started filling in shifts with RCSO while employed as Elida police chief.
“I think as the undersheriff it gives a little more management abilities to the office and better follow-up (on crime investigation),” Parker said. “I think it’s important for the sheriff to be seen by the public, and the office needs to be run well (while the sheriff attends to the public side of the office).”
Hooker says that besides Parker’s abilities to help with the management of the office, his drug interdiction skills will also be a big asset.
Parker admitted that he has always seemed to have a knack for drug enforcement, but was quick to point out his experience has also included routine policing duties as well as experience with several homicide cases.
He told the PNT that under Hooker’s administration the plan is to immediately rejoin the Region V Drug Task Force, which includes several eastern New Mexico law enforcement agencies and also to become associated with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Major Crimes Unit.
He said the associations would bring additional resources to the county in fighting crime. He said neither would impact the budget, as the state funds the Region V officer and the district attorney’s office funds most of the Major Crimes Unit.
“I think narcotics enforcement in our county is crucial,” Parker said. “I would say that 90-95 percent of the crime in the county is connected back to drug use.”
Parker, who still lives in Roosevelt County, said he is excited about coming back to work at the RCSO.
“This is my home, this is where I intend to stay. I want to come back and work with the people I’ve known all my life.”
Hooker also will be bringing on Shanna Hernandez, a former dispatcher and executive secretary for the Portales Police Department, as executive secretary. He said he intends to eliminate the assistant secretary’s position as he realigns his budget with county commissioners in early January.
Hooker said that both secretaries have told him that they will be leaving the office at the end of the year. He said that the office has previously functioned with one secretary.
Hooker says he intends to utilize the office’s two transport officers to oversee prisoner work details around the county on a daily basis. He noted that commissioners had recently approved purchase of a van to transport prisoners on work details. He said the executive secretary would work closely with Road Superintendent John Bohm and other county departments to come up with work for the prisoners.
“People want to see some sort of good come out of people being in jail,” Hooker said. “If we can get ’em out there and have ’em working, I think that will be a benefit to the county as well as to the jail administration.”
Hooker said he has been talking with citizens, office personnel and other associates in developing his transition plans. At the top of the list of routine items for him to continue to work on long-term are training officers, equipment concerns, and hiring and keeping qualified people in the department, he said.
“The biggest thing is to make it a smooth transition,” Hooker said. “It (transition) has the potential for a lot of unknowns.”
He realizes that because of the political nature of the office some of the staff may leave. He said that overall, the personnel at the office is a good group.
“I’m excited at getting ready to take the office,” Hooker said. “There’s a lot of anticipation. I’m really looking forward to it.”