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NM town stops badge program

The tiny New Mexico town that handed out police badges to dozens of out-of-towners, including New Mexico native and New York hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, is stopping the practice.

Lake Arthur Mayor Ysidro Salazar said he shut the town’s volunteer reserve-officer program earlier this month and is asking current reserve officers to hand in their credentials, which allowed them to carry concealed weapons in every state. The mayor put Chief William Norwood, who ran the program and served as Lake Arthur’s sole full-time paid police officer, on administrative leave. His status will be discussed at a future town council meeting, Salazar said. Norwood didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Robert Mercer

Mercer, a graduate of Sandia High School and the University of New Mexico, reportedly plowed $15 million into Cambridge Analytica, which helped both the Trump campaign in the U.S. and the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom, the Albuquerque Journal reported last month.

The previously obscure online data-mining firm has been thrust into the national media glare after revelations it harvested Facebook user information to help propel Donald Trump into the White House in 2016.

The volunteer officer program was the subject of a March 28 article in Bloomberg Businessweek. At its peak, the department said, almost 150 volunteers were serving as reserve officers for a town of 433 residents. The reservists were scattered around the country. Their right to carry a concealed weapon in all 50 states is a perk available to law enforcement officers under a 2004 federal law. More recently, the department winnowed the program to 84 members.

“Because of the notoriety this was bringing, I decided to go ahead and disassemble the unit,” Salazar said. The Businessweek story “didn’t put the town in a very good light.” He said Norwood’s intentions were good, but the “program got a little bit too big for him and a lot of the reserves kind of took advantage of that fact.”

Mercer, a prominent donor to President Donald Trump who bankrolled Breitbart News and the political-data company Cambridge Analytica, served as a Lake Arthur reserve officer from 2011 to 2017, according to department records. An organization he funded awarded a grant to the Lake Arthur reserve program and also advocated nationally for the rights of police officers to carry concealed weapons. Mercer works at Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund based in East Setauket, N.Y., where until recently he was co-chief executive officer. Mercer’s son-in-law George Wells also had a Lake Arthur badge.

A spokesman for Mercer declined to comment.

According to Forbes magazine, Mercer donated $24.6 million to the Republican Party in 2016. He has reportedly invested $10 million into Breitbart, the conservative news site. Financial journals place his net worth between $900 million and more than $1 billion.

Journal staff contributed to this report.


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