FARMINGTON — Farmington City Council tonight will discuss whether to move animal control officers from under the supervision of the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department to the police department.
Also on the agenda for tonight's meeting are veterinary options for the city's new, not-yet-open $4.6 million regional animal shelter, which is located on Browning Parkway near Animas Park.
City officials, however, disagree about housing animal control officers under the Farmington Police Department.
Farmington's Deputy Chief of Police Keith McPheeters said the switch would be sensible. Nationally, most city police departments supervise the position, he said.
But Councilor Mary Fischer does not support the move.
"Rather than fixing the problem, we are just attempting to dilute it," she said.
Fischer says the animal shelter's new executive director, who has not yet been named, should decide which department will oversee the animal control officers.
For three decades, before the former director of the animal shelter retired, the officers functioned well under the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department, she said.
McPheeters said the officers' responsibilities are two-fold: they are both park rangers and animal control officers. They can issue misdemeanor criminal charges, as well as impound dogs and cats, he said.
If council approves the departmental move, nine park rangers and animal control officers would switch to the police department, which currently has 125 officers, McPheeters said.
The animal control officers would serve the same roles as they have under the current department, following a training, McPheeters said. Training would be routine, including an education in ethics and how to deal with mentally disabled people, he said. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officials have already trained the officers how to safely capture animals, he said.
Animal control officers' duties often overlap with those of law enforcement, McPheeters said. Because of that, the ability to issue charges is necessary, he said.
"This is a natural function of law enforcement," he said. "It is not a natural function of parks and recreation."
Switching the officers to the police department "finalizes" the animal control officers' dual roles, McPheeters said, adding that the officers' duties will not change.
City Manager Rob Mayes said moving the animal control officers under the police department also would allow the city to more efficiently care for captured animals. Animal control officers could focus their efforts on the streets, and, once they passed the captured animal to the animal shelter, the staff there could process the animal, he said.
Mayes said the city plans to announce the new executive director of the animal shelter soon, possibly at its meeting tonight.
Also at tonight's meeting, Mayes will pitch an aggressive spay and neuter proposal, which opts for hiring a veterinarian to conduct surgeries and handle the animal shelter's care, he said. The other option in the proposal is to contract a veterinarian, which Mayes said would be more expensive.
The animal shelter is nearly complete, he said. Utilities have been installed, but equipment, such as cages, stills need to be moved in, Mayes said.
In phases, the city will switch from the old animal shelter to the new building in mid-November, he said.