Supervisors Restore Some Arrest Powers for Sheriff’s Special Officers

Amid an ongoing battle over the status of sheriff’s special officers, the Orange County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously moved toward granting certain misdemeanor arrest powers to the officers.

The ordinance would allow the special officers or SSOs to make arrests for misdemeanor crimes they witness. Final adoption is set for June 25.

It’s a partial restoration of the peace officer powers that SSOs enjoyed for nearly 20 years before a state audit in 2012 determined that SSOs didn’t fit that designation because they lack peace officer training.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens then determined the SSOs are instead “public officers” under Penal Code Section 831.4. But a major dispute remains over whether the special officers may carry concealed weapons off duty.

Concealed weapons permits or CCWs are automatic for peace officers, but SSOs must apply for permits, officials said.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer argued that because of the dangers they face, special officers have a right to carry concealed weapons while off duty. “They could be in harm’s way if they’re in civilian clothes and somebody who they arrested wants to harm them or their families,” said Spitzer.

Spitzer said he’s been told that only four of the 280 SSOs have applied for concealed weapons permits because it would likely undermine their legal argument in an ongoing lawsuit.

Spitzer asked,“Will there be some status for them, because in my opinion they should be able to carry a weapon off duty.”

Assistant Sheriff Don Barnes replied that while the sheriff’s options are “somewhat limited,” the officers may apply for the permits.

“Currently that’s the remedy available to them: to apply for and seek a CCW,” Barnes said.

SSOs patrol mainly John Wayne Airport and county jails, courts and government buildings.

But last May, an audit by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) found that the special officers don’t meet state requirements for peace officers because they don’t receive the necessary training and fail to report officer assignments.

The Orange County Employees Association, which represents the special officers, maintains that they should have full peace officer status. The union has filed a lawsuit against the county over the issue, which is now in the discovery phase.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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