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200 O.C. sheriff's special officers stripped of arrest powers

July 2, 2012 | 10:33 am

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

About 200 Orange County sheriff’s special officers who patrol John Wayne Airport, act as court guards and work in county buildings have been stripped of their authority to make arrests and barred from carrying their guns off duty because state regulators say they don't have enough training.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens informed the security officers 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 was forced to make the move after the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training sent a notice to the department in May saying that the 200 special safety officers may not meet the minimum standard for sworn police officers with arrest powers.  Under California law, the commission sets the standards for police officers and their training.

Orange County Asst. Sheriff Tim Board said safety officers receive four months of academy training compared to 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.

The commission also requires a department to notify the state oversight agency anytime a law enforcement officer is hired or fired. Board said that has not occurred with the special officers.

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.

Several sources said the action immediately affected morale among the special officers and some expressed concern that they could no longer carry their weapons off duty and could be confronted by former arrestees.

Nick Berardino, Orange County Employees Assn. general manager, sent a memo to the officers represented by the union in response to Hutchens’ decision.

“We have immediately turned over this issue to our legal team, which is evaluating our next steps. In addition, we are demanding to meet with the department, and we are requesting all copies of correspondence related to the matter,” he wrote.


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Photo: An Orange County sheriff's 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