08/31/2007

Calif. AG says honorary badges illegal

By Steve Geissinger
The Contra Costa Times

SACRAMENTO The Attorney General's Office is reclaiming honorary police-type badges it gave its 1,200 attorneys because the agency has declared the practice common in local government to be illegal.

In turn, local enforcement agencies are reviewing their policies, since the formal opinion by the Attorney General's Office says the badges, resembling those of cops, can be misused by recipients, who are not sworn law-enforcement officers.

The issuing agency and taxpayers also could be subject to civil liability for an injury resulting from misuse of the badge, according to the opinion.

Honorary badges have been given in many areas to city council members, county supervisors, animal control officers, district attorney prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement auxiliary groups, ceremonial mounted posses, courtroom clerks, emergency dispatchers and others.

The attorney general's opinion, which can carry weight in court cases, was requested by Riverside County after controversy there and in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. The Legislature banned its members from issuing honorary badges after a recent incident.

After issuing the opinion, the Attorney General's Office was prompted to follow its own advice.

"The attorney general's deputies are in the process of turning the badges in throughout the state,'' said Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown. Lacy said the badges were issued long before Brown took office in January.

Badges are being collected from deputy attorneys in the Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego offices.

"It's up to the individual attorneys whether they want a new one, whether they want a credential, or nothing,'' Lacy said. "They don't have to have anything.''

"Any new badges will say, 'Not a peace officer,' on it,'' he said. "That should take care of any problem.''

In Riverside County, following the opinion, 200 prosecutors and nonsworn employees and volunteers with the sheriff's department will no longer carry badges, officials said.

The Attorney General's Office said the opinion also was spurred by reports that the Los Angeles County sheriff had issued identification cards at one point to political supporters and that the San Bernardino County district attorney had issued honorary badges.

Those cards and badges have been returned to authorities.

A controversy arose after a legislative staffer for Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, showed a legislative badge during a DUI arrest. It was one of several badges purchased by Dymally and handed out to relatives, donors and others.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, then banned legislators providing badges to the general public.

Copyright 2007 Contra Costa Newspapers

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