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Vaughn, N.M., police force goes to the dog. Really.

September 28, 2012|By John M. Glionna
  • The "K-9" police truck of the Vaughn, N.M. Police Department. The town's only certified member of the police force is a drug-sniffing dog named Nikka.
The "K-9" police truck of the Vaughn, N.M. Police Department.… (Russell Contreras / Associated…)

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 the small eastern New Mexico town of about 450 residents 100 miles east of Albuquerque.

Police Chief Ernest "Chris" Armijo resigned this 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.

But now Penny’s manager Tracie Gallagos and her server staff have to endure all the wiseacre, knee-slapping jokes from customers who belly up to the counter.

“We’ve heard them all,” Gallagos told the Los Angeles Times. “Around town, people just think this whole episode is ridiculous – they’re shaking their heads, but the jokes keep coming.”

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.

Gallagos says Vaughn is a quiet town with little crime problem. The burg 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.

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,” Gallagos told The Times. “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?” said Gallagos. “We’re just waiting for all this attention to go away.”

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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