In the wake of Christopher Dorner’s rampage across Southern California earlier this month, nearly 300 Orange County Sheriff Department’s special officers are criticizing their department for not permitting them to carry concealed weapons in public while off duty.

The officers mainly patrol John Wayne Airport and Orange County jails, courts and government buildings and have been considered peace officers permitted to carry concealed weapons for nearly 20 years.

Yet last summer, the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) advised that special officers’ status as peace officers and  their permission to carry concealed guns be restricted after the commission criticized Orange County sheriff’s officials for failing to report officer assignments and provide the proper training.

Instead of complying with the POST recommendations, sheriff’s officials forbade special officers to carry concealed weapons.

That drew the ire of union officials representing the officers, who are now calling for expedited concealed weapons permits and have filed suit against the county. Their push has intensified after watching the Dorner saga unfold on local television.

Citing ongoing labor negotiations, sheriff’s officials and other county leaders have declined to discuss the issue publicly.

Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Miller, who has been handling the protests from officers, would say only that “the county of Orange and Sheriff’s Department are involved in the meet-and-confer process with OCEA [Orange County Employees Association] over this issue. Therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this at this time.”

Withholding comment, Miller said, was “the right thing to do on this topic until it gets resolved.”

County Supervisor Todd Spitzer also acknowledged the dispute but declined to discuss details, issuing this statement through a spokesman:

I support law enforcement officers, and I have been in their shoes and know the dangers they face keeping us safe. The discussion over which officers should carry weapons home and under what circumstances is important — and it’s my understanding that the Sheriff’s Department and the employee representatives are having that discussion now.

According to member updates posted by the OCEA last week, it’s been a nasty dialogue.

The day before Dorner shot himself during a standoff with police at a cabin in Big Bear, OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino sent this update to officers:

The refusal of the department’s leadership to allow SSOs [sheriff’s special officers]  to carry a weapon off duty given the recent circumstances and the statements made by this scumbag cop killer is incredible. I personally cannot sit back and watch as the department’s hierarchy knowingly and willingly puts the lives of the men and women they are supposed to lead and their families at risk.

Those of us who have served in combat have seen this leadership style many times. It sickened us then, and it sickens us now. There is no excuse for this behavior … none! Courage for leaders takes many forms, and department leaders have failed the most important test for leadership — the courage to do what’s right.

Two days later, Miller posted a response to OCEA members:

SSOs do have the ability to transport their firearm in a locked container as permitted by Penal Code section 25610(a). If other measures are available within the limits of the law, we would be available to discuss. The safety of our personnel is paramount; however, we cannot authorize violating the law to enforce the law.

Please explain to your membership that this is not an issue of character or respect; it’s an issue of the law.

The Sheriff has no legal standing or ability to authorize the carrying of weapons by off-duty SSO’s in violation of the law. Therefore, the Sheriff declines to sanction this type of action, in spite of the circumstances.

Berardino came back at Miller that very day, arguing that the department’s own lack of attention to training and reporting requirements left rank-and-file officers vulnerable.

This is about character and respect because the department has completely ignored its own responsibility for the current dilemma and dishonored the men and women who have devoted their careers to its success.

This is about character and respect because Christopher Dorner didn’t care whether an officer wore a green short or a tan shirt or a blue shirt.

Christopher Dorner would not have waited while an officer accessed a container, unlocked it, and removed a firearm for protection. Christopher Dorner didn’t care. And right now it’s clear to your loyal and brave SSOs that their department doesn’t care either.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the actions of the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). It is the Orange County Sheriff’s Department that has restricted the peace officer status of special officers and their ability to carry concealed weapons, not POST.

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