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O.C. union threatens suit over special officers' off-duty gun ban

July 2, 2012 |  2:16 pm

An Orange County sheriff's special officer extends his hand to stop a motorist as a John Wayne Airport operations worker makes random vehicle inspections in 2003.

A union representing 200 Orange County special officers stripped of their authority to carry guns while off duty and make arrests says it plan to sue the Sheriff's Department over the gun issue.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens told the security officers -- who patrol John Wayne Airport, secure county buildings and protect the courthouses -- last week that they will no longer have arrest powers, won’t be able to issue misdemeanor citations and cannot carry their weapons off duty without a concealed weapons permit.

Hutchens made the decision after the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training sent a notice to the department in May saying the 200 special safety officers may not meet the minimum standard for sworn police officers with arrest powers. 

The commission sets the standards for police officers and their training. The commission also requires a department to notify the state oversight agency any time a law enforcement officer is hired or fired. The commission says that has not occurred with the special officers.

But Jennifer Muir, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn., said Hutchens overstepped her power in deciding the officers will no longer carry weapons off duty and directing them to carry a concealed weapons permit if they want to resume doing so.

"We plan to go to court later this week," Muir said. "It is a matter of officer safety."

Muir said there is a very real danger that an off-duty officer could come into contact with a suspect they handled while off duty.

Orange County Asst. Sheriff Tim Board said safety officers receive four months of academy training compared with six months in the academy for sheriff’s deputies. Board said the officers have long patrolled the airport, protected court buildings and assisted in the jails, but the commission has decided to take issue with the amount of training they receive.

Two years ago, Hutchens began allowing the safety officers to make misdemeanor arrests without a deputy present, Board said. The move occurred at a time when the department was facing annual budget cuts and was battling to maintain the number of deputies on patrol.

Board said the officers will continue to be paid the same amount and do the same work.

“It is not going to truly impact their work.... They'll still be able to issue traffic citations at the airport and supervise people entering the courthouse or other county buildings,” he said.

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-- Richard Winton

Photo: An Orange County sheriff's special officer extends his hand to stop a motorist as a John Wayne Airport operations worker makes random vehicle inspections in 2003. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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