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Sheriff Baca recalls 200 badges given to local politicians

July 11, 2012 |  9:37 am

Sheriff recalls badges
A photograph of a smiling woman in a Cudahy nightclub brandishing two handguns and wearing a councilman's badge may have played a role in Sheriff Lee Baca's decision to recall about 200 badges the department gave to local politicians.

Baca's decision came two weeks after the FBI arrested three Cudahy city officials on bribery charges, and in support of those charges, the U.S. attorney's office released the photo.

One command-level sheriff's official briefed on the badge recall said the move was prompted by the revelation in Cudahy. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore, however, said that the timing was a coincidence and that a 2007 state attorney general's warning prompted the call to return the badges.

Asked why it took more than four years for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to take action on the attorney general's legal opinion, Whitmore replied, "That's a good question."

The emergence of the Cudahy photo is the latest in a series of incidents in which official-looking credentials given to civilians by law enforcement agencies have come under scrutiny.

Critics have long said badges and identification cards appeared to be rewards for political contributions and had the potential for abuse. After a series of Times stories, California police chiefs and sheriffs were told by then-Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown in 2007 that handing out badges created the potential for civilians to falsely pose as law enforcement officers.

The attorney general's opinion covers any badge "that would deceive an ordinary reasonable person into believing that it is authorized for use by a peace officer." In the wake of the opinion, some agencies pledged to stop issuing the IDs and badges.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department recalled official-looking identification cards but continued giving badges to council members and city managers in cities that contracted for the department's police services.

Whitmore said the badges were given to city officials for use during emergencies so they could pass through sheriff's command posts. He estimated about 200 badges will be recalled from about 40 cities.


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Photo: A woman wears the Sheriff's Department badge of a Cudahy councilman. Credit: Released by U.S. attorney's office