Santana: Has Orange County Created America’s Most Vulnerable Cops?

Orange County Sheriff's Department Academy class. (Photo credit: OCSD)

They might be the most vulnerable cops in America.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s special officers (SSOs) have spent the last few years locked in a heated battle with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, vying to get back their peace officer status so they can carry concealed weapons in public when off duty.

Without that, they are an American rarity — cops who can’t carry a concealed weapon while off duty.

With public attacks on police officers mounting, that’s making them nervous and even more vocal.

I first wrote about this issue back in 2013 when the rampage by former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner – targeting law enforcement personnel – put officers’ off-duty risks front and center.

It’s stunning to see that three years later, with all the public safety supportive rhetoric from our county supervisors and more public attacks, these 200 or so officers remain in an unsafe position every night they leave their jobs.

That should be an unacceptable situation for anyone we are asking to protect us, especially during tough times when they are being targeted personally because of the nature of their job.

Note that SSOs work at virtually every public counter across the county government protecting taxpayers when they arrive at the airport, go to courts, go to pay their taxes or attend public meetings.

That means they deal with large crowds, often unhappy people and probably very difficult people on a regular basis — all at public buildings where they can be easily identified, maybe even followed out.

Yet the front door is apparently as far as Hutchens and county supervisors are willing to stick with these officers.

One you hit the parking lot, you’re on your own as an SSO.

That’s why they’ve headed into court arguing against Hutchens that their ability to carry concealed weapons shouldn’t just be taken away after a 2008 state audit – by the California Commission on Peace Office Standards and Training – concluded training for these officers should be stepped up to keep their peace officer status.

POST officials declined a request for comment.

While county supervisors say they support the SSO’s need to carry concealed weapons, none of them, nor Hutchens, have supported extra training for these officers to restore their peace officer status.

I’m not sure how much money this really saves but their action likely saves the county some money on training as well as any premium salaries that may potentially kick in with more training; along with potential pension impacts for the 300 or so officers in this class.

The SSO class is part of a growing movement where civilian workers or other classes of officers are used in different types of scenarios – like jail operations and public buildings – given the rising costs of using sworn law enforcement personnel.

Keep in mind there are several types of peace officers, connected to a special range of skills, training and jobs. The state’s penal code on peace officers includes many categories, including the ones that SSOs were under for decades (830.33 and 830.36) that covered jobs like airport officers or court services officers.

Now, these officers are classified as the equivalent of security guards (831.4) even though they note that their jobs require much more expertise and training than a standard security guard.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he understands the threat toward these men and women.

“It’s a philosophy,” Spitzer said. “I don’t believe the safety risk is eliminated simply by not having the uniform on.”

Spitzer said he believes that the special service class should be issued concealed carry firearms permits, noting the officers “have valid concerns.”

Yet Supervisor Shawn Nelson argues that the SSOs could already have their concealed weapons because county supervisors eliminated local concealed weapon (CCW) application fees years ago to help them out.

“If you want a CCW and you are an SSO, you got one,” Nelson said. “If you don’t have one, I assume you don’t want one. That’s a you thing not a me thing.”

Nelson describes the SSO job as part of team of players who do different functions. If those officers want full peace officer status, then they need to become deputy sheriffs, Nelson argues.

“It’s not like you were promised something and somebody took it way,” he notes. “They knew what they were signing up for, it’s not the full peace officer job…it doesn’t come with the same amount of perks…that’s the nature of the beast…if you apply for a prison guard, you don’t have the same benefits as the FBI,” Nelson noted.

“We have different tiers of jobs,” Nelson added. “All of them are welcome to be peace officers…if they want to, they should.”

Nelson’s comments drew immediate fire from Orange County Employees Association General Manager Jennifer Muir Beuthin, who represents the SSO’s, and argues the county has left them vulnerable.

“The [SSOs] applied and were hired and trained for peace officer jobs, performed those peace officer duties and continue to do so today while being told they’re no longer peace officers,” Beuthin said. “It’s the Sheriff and county’s responsibility to protect the safety of these brave men and women both on and off duty. Still, after more than four years, the Sheriff has failed to develop a solution that will protect her SSOs and meanwhile, every day their safety is in jeopardy.”

There’s also a deep-seated respect issue among the SSOs – who won’t talk on the record for fear of retaliation – because the county has changed the terms of the job they were hired to do without ensuring they and their families are protected.

Given that many SSOs can’t afford to live in Orange County, those who want a CCW would have to seek the permit from other counties – like Riverside. Using a CCW outside of the jurisdiction where you live can be much more restrictive in terms of when you are allowed to carry the weapon.

There are also other fees, they point out, such as from the U.S. Department of Justice, and many of the SSOs are worried about the personal liability that comes with a CCW. They would prefer to be issued one by their employer.

It’s unclear how many SSOs have applied for a CCW in Orange County.

Union leaders argue that they are unlikely to apply as they are waiting to see what happens with the lawsuit.

Their main point is that for the last 20 years, they all thought they were properly trained and entitled to wear a gun off-duty.

That was their deal.

Now, as many approach 50 years of age, they are being told the only way they can protect themselves and their families off duty is to go through the Sheriff’s academy and get a new job.

That’s not the deal they signed up for.

It’s likely a cheap budgetary trick that saves the county money by leaving them and their families feeling unsafe.

Yet that’s not the deal we as taxpayers signed up for either.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Jennifer Muir Beuthin’s name. We regret the error.

  • Brexit

    My question would be why wouldn’t any Sheriff want the most trained people she or he could put out in public? Since as I read it they protect the Board of supervisors, Courts and other high profile county buildings. When I travel through John Wayne airport I see them all over the place and they look like cops to me.
    After reading this and the few other articles I could find using google this boils down to a training issue. Why does the sheriff insist on using these people to do police work and not want to train them? This seems like a major liability to me the taxpayer. Also if these people were originally hired as peace officer why on earth in this day and age of terrorism would a Sheriff do anything to diminish the ability of people hired to protect us from doing just that?
    The Sheriff seems to be counting pennies and using our safety not to mention the safety of her employees to do so. Do your job Madam Sheriff and train your officers to do the job they were originally hired to do! These officers are qualified otherwise you and your predecessors would have never hired them.
    Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t you do a top to bottom evaluation of the department when you took over from that other guy? Based on your numerous years of service at the highest levels of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department why didn’t you uncover this training issue? Which begs the question who is really in need of training You or them?

  • Richard

    Someone pointed out in a post that a uniform makes all the difference. In Los Angeles County, Sheriffs Deputies wear tan and green while correctional assistants wear green and green. I can see where some gang banger, thug, criminal element from Los Angeles County could easily mistake an “armed” Sheriff Special Officer as a deputy! And a peace officer who upholds the law regardless if they are 830.1 or 830.2, 830.33 or 830.XOXO should be and needs to be able to carry a concealed weapon off duty! If they are allowed and trusted to carry on duty then why not off duty! Sheriff Hutchinson is WRONG! and it is my understanding that it was not POST who took away their rights, it was the Sheriffs Departments doing. So good luck to the men and women of the Orange County Sheriff Department Special Officers! Keep fighting for what is your rights! I also believe that maybe some retired probation officers are jealous that Special Officers had and will again get the right to carry while they cannot, unless they get a CCW!

  • Jeff C

    A simple fix is let these guys carry off duty per HR218. They don’t have to be peace officers just perform law enforcement work. The current penal code the boss placed them under is perfect and they still can make misdomeanor arrests. Most of the SSOs I have spoke with said they would be happy and settle for HR 218

  • nope

    So if I’m reading this right…SSO’s perform law enforcement duties carrying a gun and a badge when they’re on the clock. When they’re off the clock, they’re hung out to dry without being able to carry. With the anti cop climate we are in today, they are targets as is every law enforcement officer out there. The Sheriff needs to allow all of their law enforcement personnel the ability to at least defend themselves and their families without having to go apply for a CCW. That would be the right thing to do. I’m sure a cop killer isn’t going to know the difference between an SSO and any other police officer out there!

  • No Name

    I don’t feel safe around some of the SSO’S..

  • No Name


  • Ron Dossey

    I am a Retired SSO and I had Peace Officer Status and was allowed to carry a CCW. Also when injured in the line of duty I received 4850, a full year full pay. I was also sworn in with Deputies, same oath. This new Sheriff should be replaced.

  • Has any SSO living in Riverside asked Sniff for a CCW?

  • Richard Morehead

    Supervisor Nelson, This is a you thing!! Shame on you!!! Make no
    mistake about it; SSO’s were hired as PEACE OFFICERS, period. SSO’s have not been hiding in the shadows for
    the last 20 years playing cop and ducking training. No SSO to my knowledge has ever
    refused to go to training. Just the opposite they are always asking for it.
    They stood tall and did the jobs the Sheriff assigned them to. It’s not up to
    us to keep our training up to date; it’s the Sheriff’s Department responsibility
    to keep us up to date. The Sheriff
    failed them. Is it the Deputy’s responsibility to check there’s? So now if there not cops who issued them
    badges, they didn’t buy their own, who issued them guns, and uniforms? Again
    the Sheriff failed them!!!

  • The immediate issue of protecting themselves is easily remedied by obtaining a CCW. Muir should read the penal code rather than try to lame up an excuse. The penal code allows the sheriff to issue a CCW to anyone who lives or works in the county. So, issuance is moot. Are we sure this isn’t about limited peace officer status and the labor benefits of that status?

    • Richard Morehead

      The problem is the Sheriff will not issue a CCW to a SSO that
      resides out of county, even with the CPC saying she can, so it’s not a moot
      point. Also a CCW can be revoked at any time, your rights as a peace officer

      • Apparently, “your rights as a peace officer” can be revoked. POST did just that. The SSOs have been on a downhill slide ever since the Deputies union succeeded in taking the more lucrative assignments, such as transit security. The writing was on the wall a long time ago. God help them if they have to shoot someone on duty.

        • NHtoLA

          Jeff. Study up Son. POST cannot revoke anything. They don’t assign or revoke penal code status sections. LOL. The LAPD, the biggest gang in LA, was not recognized by POST so I guess they weren’t real cops. The Sheriff felt she could take away a peace officer status, so she did, and now she’s being taken to court to see if it was legal. She tried to have it thrown out of court but the judge wasn’t buying it. He obviously feels there is merit to this case so we shall see. Jeff. I have no dog in this fight so it doesn’t really matter to me but the fact that these SSOs are put in position to maybe have to “shoot someone on duty” as you say just lends credence to the fact that they probably do peace officer work and should probably be compensated with the same rights as any peace officer. Nice try.

          • Ron Dossey

            I agree

          • I don’t know where you get your info. Before saying LAPD Police Academy is not POST Certified, you may want to look at this list of POST Certified Academies (midway down under LAPD):


            Neither do I have a “dog in the fight, being a retired peace officer”. And the discussion is not about their duties which, I agree, align with those of a peace officer. See my earlier response for the rest.

            Nice try yourself. Try checking it out first, next time.

          • NHtoLA

            On November 3, 2000 the City of LA and the DOJ agreed to enter into a consent of decree allowing federal oversight of the LAPD. Basically POST no longer was in charge of the LAPD training. They have since fallen under the POST umbrella again but for a time they lost their POST acredited status. I know this because I was there while you were babysitting people like my Dad in “your unit” You sound like a lifetime jailer. But I respect your service. Thank you.

          • I was a cop long before I was a “jailer”, as you put it (actually 19 years in County probation). I apologize for the remark when we are all trying to have a civil discussion. Interesting about the LAPD Academy. Nonetheless, (almost) all peace officers in this state are required to undergo the minimum POST training which is, Arrest and Firearms PC832. The point being, peace officers receive a POST certificate and I know of no police or sheriff’s department that doesn’t require a POST certificate for their peace officers.

          • NHtoLA

            I too apologize for the “Son” comment. I was trying to be funny. From what I understand, these guys recieved a POST certificate. Then in 2008 POST decided that in order to be a peace officer under 830.33 or 830.36 you needed a Basic POST certificate. All hearsay so don’t quote me on that. I’ve been told that the last SSO academy was 19 weeks long and included all the same LDs as the Deputy academy minus the patrol function and the EVOC training. I know older guys like myself had nowhere near 19 weeks of academy training and I wouldn’t be expected to get current via another academy. My guess for the revoking of the peace officer status has more to do with having to pay out safety benefits than anything else. I think we both know that Government agencies rarely are up front about reasons for changes but it usually has dollar signs attached to them.

          • Agreed on all. Although, if they are going to 19 weeks of training, why not just put them through the 26 week deputy course and be done with it? Lots of counties have “correctional” deputies. And, at one time, LA County had a “county police” department that was absorbed by the Sheriff’s Department. They performed, essentially, the same functions as SSOs. If I remember right, however, they had special legislation to give them peace officer authority.

          • NHtoLA

            I think it boils down to money Jeff. SSOs cost way less than deputies and if you can get police services for less money then why not. You don’t have to pay safety wages or benefits and to the public they are the same as deputies. In fact the Board of Sups added an addendum to their public officer penal code section that allows them to arrest for misdemeanors. I’m all for making people go through the current deputy academy if they want to become full sworn peace officers. But these guys and gals had full peace officer sworn status that was taken away. That’s a whole different ball game. Nice chatting with you Jeff. I think this topic is done.

          • Money is always an issue. The same here.

          • Richard

            Quick question, is the 19 years in county probation what you are considering “being a cop”? or did you work uniform patrol with a police department? And is there not a number of Sheriff Special Officers assigned to the probation office to protect probation employees, probation officers included? I am not trying to be disrespectful, just curious. I am one who does not look down on probation officer, special officer, security officers or try to compare myself with LAPD or such, just an average guy who has put in over 30 years of law enforcement. and I do carry on and off duty!

        • N/A


          I’m not sure where you are getting your information from. POST did not revoke the peace officer status. The Sheriff did. POST is not a controlling agency nor do they have the authority to revoke peace officer status. POST does not decide who is a peace officer and who is not. The Penal code does. Post is a recommending agency for training and departments can choose to be POST certified or not for their peace officers. The only requirement to be a peace officer is found under Penal code 832.

          • Let’s see, POST makes a finding that SSOs don’t have enough/proper training and the next thing you know, SSOs aren’t peace officers any more, they are public officers. Neat hat trick for a commission that only recommends. Name a department in California that has peace officers who are not trained in a POST accredited school. Your argument is semantics. Mine are real world.

            PC 832 is the minimum standard of training for a peace officer. It’s not the only requirement.

          • N/A

            I thought you might ask. CA Department of State Hospitals Police Officer. Sworn peace officers that don’t attend an accredited POST academy.

            There are plenty of other agencies with Peace Officers that don’t bother with POST training.

            Check the list


            It clearly states which ones participate

          • Check the section under “Philosophy” where it says they will follow POST training whenever possible. And, has has been stated elsewhere, they must complete the minimum Arrest and Firearms mandated by POST in order to exercise peace officer powers.

            As to your list, I notice nearly all of the non participating agencies are not vested with peace officer powers or authority (Claremont College being the exception as they are designated peace officers elsewhere in the penal code). Private colleges generally have safety departments staffed by non peace officers. The Department of Corrections comes under Standards of Training for Corrections so they wouldn’t neccessarily be POST Certified other than Powers of Arrest.

            State Hospital Police, whom I had the pleasure of working with on various bills in the legislature are all POST Certified in order to pursue their duties, regardless of what the paper says.

            If POST is no big deal, why is Hutchens following their lead? Oh, and the SSOs are (or at least we’re) post certified. They attend a shortened academy (as do many limited peace officer status classifications) that deals mainly with jail operations.

          • N/A

            How about Orange County Probation officers under Penal Code 830.5? Probation is not a POST participating agency however they are still peace officers.

          • They take the Arrest and Firearms and are issued a POST Certificate. However, they are also STC certified. They are community corrections, after all.

          • John Claxton

            The 40 hour powers of arrest course was a joke. If you wanted the firearms portion, you had to take that on your own time/dime, unless you were assigned to the gang or posse unit, or maybe all of the BPOC classes then I am sure they paid for it. As a correctional officer, our powers of arrest were only valid inside the institution. Since we get 3 % at 50, the SSO’s should too. We know this is what the argument is really about. Just give it to them already.

          • I see you maintain your excellent understanding of peace officer status for probation, John.

            But, I agree with on the 3@50 for SSOs. Never gonna happen, though.

          • NHtoLA

            I agree with you Jeff. 3@50 is a dinosaur. Even new Deputies don’t get 3@50.

          • First Last

            SSOs deal very little with jail operations. Maybe 5-10% and they work the armed positions.

          • First Last

            Deputy Sheriffs – Detention/Court Services for San Diego County.
            Detentions works under 830.1(c)
            Courts work under 830.36 – same Penal Code SSOs were classified.

          • Richard

            P.O.S. T. stands for: Peace Officer Training and Standards They do not dictate what an agency can do with their employees, and way back when, the O.C.S.D. grandfathered in the harbor patrol and made them deputies. The airport was offered the same thing but they refused and low and behold a little while later Sheriff Special Officers were born! I Remember way back when training for deputies/police officers were just a couple of months long. So instead of arguing or pointing out that the Special Officers should not carry off duty, if you were ever a “peace officer” you should be on their side instead of treating them like their own agency does less than they deserve! Oh yeah and I believe that Hutchinson was sitting on the board at P.O.S.T. when this came down, which by the way was because of a certain deputy academy class that was brought to P.O.S.T.s attention.

          • No one was arguing the validity of the SSO as a peace officer. Masur you should read the whole discussion. Have a nice day. As was said elsewhere, this topic has run its course.

        • Ron Dossey

          So true

    • David Zenger

      “Are we sure this isn’t about limited peace officer status and the labor benefits of that status?”

      That is exactly what this is about. Everything at the County that involves the unions tends unerringly toward theater.

    • Ron Dossey

      There are legal issues that must be taken in to account. The protection of the Sheriffs dept if an SSO has to use his weapon.

    • First Last

      There is no such thing as limited peace officer status in orange county ca. It only exists in certain counties and orange county is not one of them.

      “Limited Function Peace Officer” is a deputy sheriff, regularly employed and paid as such, of a county, a police officer of a city, a police officer of a district authorized by statute to maintain a police department, who is designated on or prior to June 30, 1985, to be a peace officer as described in Penal Code section 830.1(c), and is employed to perform duties other than the prevention and detection of crime and the general enforcement of the criminal laws of the state.

      (c) Any deputy sheriff of the County of Los Angeles, and any
      deputy sheriff of the Counties of Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Glenn,
      Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Mariposa,
      Mendocino, Plumas, Riverside, San Benito, San Diego, San Luis Obispo,
      Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Shasta, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma,
      Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, and Yuba

      • Actually, I misspoke. Peace officers in California maintain there status as a peace officer (in almost all cases) at all times, 24 hours a day. Their authority can be limited by statute. This was key to SSOs, coroner’s and other “limited” peace officers during the 1994 lawsuit regarding off duty carry by these officers.

        I think you are confusing limited authority with “limited function”. Limited function, if you read the entire section, refers to peace officers in those counties who maintain full peace officer status even though they are not assigned patrol. Typically, these were correctional Deputies and police.

        If you look further into 830 et seq, you will find a variety of peace officer classifications with a limitation of authority. Orange County certainly employs a variety of these including, park rangers, probation officers, welfare fraud investigators, coroner’s and -until their status was questioned- SSOs.

  • Jacki Livingston

    I have had the pleasure of riding with many SSO’s on the train into work, and they are very nice, always keeping an eye open on the train. I would hope that they could carry, there, because I think the Metrolink is a potential target.

  • David Zenger

    I think a better conversation would be to actually analyze what cops do with their guns off duty – protect themselves, harm others, get into trouble, etc.

    The cops that were killed were all on duty, wearing uniforms, right?

    It may make these individuals feel safe packing heat, but I really wonder if the rest of us are any better off.

    This sure looks like an OCEA manufactured issue.

    • Cops are involved with shootings off duty all the time. Sometimes they even get killed. Sometimes they win:

      • David Zenger

        “Cops are involved with shootings off duty all the time.”

        Jeff, I’m inclined to believe you.

        • No Name

          Godddddddd dammmmmittttttt

        • Thank you, David. I can back up anything I say here because I do my research.

    • bnelle

      I’m the wife of an SSO. My husband has been recognized, in his street clothes, off duty, by criminals he has encountered on duty. So far, that recognition has only gotten him dirty looks and under the breath comments, but I, for one, am not really looking forward to what this animosity could escalate to. Further, what happens if we are out as a family if one of these moments escalates? While you aren’t sure the “rest of us” are any better off, I would definitely consider myself and my children safer, knowing my husband could protect us.

      Of course, in recent events, cops on duty have been killed, but there are also lots of incidents where off duty cops have been targeted for violence. You may not have really heard about them unless you are married to a cop, or have a son or daughter in law enforcement. When that happens, you become accutely aware of these things.

      When my husband was hired, he was told he was a police officer, with all of the rights, and all of the dangers. Now he has been told that he actually has very few of the rights, but that the dangers all remain the same. Like everyone else, I just want my husband to be safe, and to know that he can protect himself and his family if that dreaded moment arises.

      • David Zenger

        “You may not have really heard about them unless you are married to a cop, or have a son or daughter in law enforcement. When that happens, you become accutely aware of these things.”

        That was exactly my point, although rather than “hearing” about event I would like to learn about the big picture statistically.

      • He might have been told he was a police officer but that was never the case. Even under the old guard, he was a peace officer with limited authority. His ability to carry off duty was a hard won court fight in the early ’90s that resulted in his ability to carry off duty. Hitchens does have the authority to allow off duty carry the same as it is her authority to allow your husband to carry on duty. In any case, he does and never did have the “full” authority of a police officer.

        So, what would happen if all SSOs refused to carry on duty? Remember, it’s a question of liability.

        • First Last

          There is no such thing as a peace officer with limited authority in Orange County CA.

          1993 Court case decided the Sheriff has no authority in regards to off duty carry of any peace officer.

    • Richard Morehead

      David, how would you like it if you were hired as a truck
      driver for the last 20 years, then your employer says, well you’re out of certification
      now because we didn’t keep your training up to date and … we don’t want to pay
      to update your training, so you can drive a cargo van for the rest of your
      career. Don’t think many would stand for that.

      • David Zenger

        Richard, I raise the issue of off duty cops and guns generally, and their deployment by their owners. Has anybody got any statistics other than anecdotal references?

        • NHtoLA

          David, you would have to go back 3 or 4 years and get statistics about any unsavory action by these SSOs when they were allowed to carry off duty. They have been carrying off duty for over 20 years and I bet if there were any illegal actions by them it would be pretty big news. How many stories have we heard over the years about cops doing ridiculous things off duty? They make the front page and the 6 o’clock news when it happens. A quick search of SSOs off duty incidents revealed zero instances that made the news. As far as a manufactured union issue, I don’t see your point. It’s an issue that is winding its way through the courts for the last 3 years. If it was “manufactured” don’t you think some judge would have thrown it out by now?

          • David Zenger

            Well, my point was I was interested in in statistics, not anecdotal news stories.

          • Anyone know the status of the case?