Arming Hospital Police Officers
They drive marked police cars that have red flashing lights and sirens. They carry a badge, a baton and pepper spray. They are sworn peace officers who make traffic stops, respond to crimes in progress and transport violent offenders. So why don't these state hospital police officers carry a firearm while on duty?
" When I explain this to people, I see the look on their face, they're thinking, the same thing you're thinking, it's common sense," said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona.
CSLEA supports legislation that would allow police officers at California state mental hospitals to carry guns on hospital grounds and while transporting patients. Officers would not carry their guns when entering the actual hospital buildings. Currently, the Department of Mental Health and Department of Developmental Services do not allow state hospital police officers to carry guns.
Officer Adrian Enriquez has worked for the Coalinga State Hospital Department of Police Services for seven years, "I have carried a weapon almost all my adult life. It's really weird not having anything at hand in case something happens."
Enriquez posed this question, "Would you let a doctor perform surgery without a scalpel? Would you let a construction worker build your house without a level?"
Assembly Bill 2623 takes a step toward arming state hospital police officers. It would require the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Developmental Services to adopt a policy for arming state hospital police officers while on duty outside of the secure areas of the hospitals. Just this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee placed the bill on the Appropriations Suspense file.
Officer Enriquez accepted his post at Coalinga State Hospital knowing he would not be armed but, in light of current events, he thinks the policy needs to be changed, "With the way things are now, the level of violence and the things you read in the media, the active shooter situations going on now, the theater, the mall, the mosque, you just never know what's going to happen."
In a statement to the state Assembly, Luis Jimenez, President of the Hospital Police Association of California (HPAC) said, "Our primary goal in arming our officers is to be given the best chance possible to protect those who we are responsible for protecting and ourselves from the immediate danger of great bodily injury or death, and for all of us to go home alive to our families at the end of our work shifts."
Retired state hospital Police Chief, Larry Holt, told that same group of lawmakers, "During my tenure at Atascadero, we recovered no less than ten firearms from employees or visitors, the majority of these were loaded handguns."
At Coalinga State Hospital, according to Officer Enriquez, he has been called by staff to respond to employee terminations and to escort terminated employees off hospital grounds. "If he comes back with a gun, there's nothing I can do. I don't have a gun," said Enriquez. "Many employees at the hospital are surprised to learn their officers don't have guns."
At CSLEA where the effort to change that is underway, it comes down to this, " If you're going to have a patrol officer in a patrol car, pulling people over, issuing citations, going to theft calls and fights, domestic issues and all those types of things, they ought to have all the tools in order to protect themselves," said Barcelona. Now, more than ever, there is a need for highly trained, official sworn peace officers to be armed to protect the public and to ensure they return home to their families at the end of their shifts.
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