The head of the state Assembly's gun-violence committee has introduced legislation that would eliminate or disarm state humane officers, little-known quasi-police who make arrests and sometimes carry guns but operate without oversight and frequently have little training.
In the wake of a recent Times series on problems associated with humane officers, two other assemblymen had introduced bills to impose state controls over the hundreds of officers credentialed under the sponsorship of private animal-welfare groups.
Humane officers, charged with enforcing animal-abuse laws, must pass a fingerprint check to see if they have a criminal record before completing a basic 24-hour weapons course if they are to carry a gun. Virtually all other police officers in the state, however, are required to have more than 10 times that amount of training, often supplemented by background and psychological tests. Unlike other police officers, humane officers are not supervised by a government agency.
Bills to place the humane officers under state supervision were introduced last month by Assemblymen Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood) and Richard Katz (D-Panorama City).
But Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles), saying that such measures would not adequately address the problem, introduced a bill late Friday to do away with humane officers entirely. He said later he would consider amending the bill to simply forbid them to carry guns.
His bill was immediately criticized by Rick Johnson, president of the State Humane Assn. of California, who said Monday that such officers provide valuable help to other law enforcement agencies in protecting animals and ensuring that animals aren't a threat to people.
Caldera, who heads the Assembly's Select Committee on Gun Violence, said the legislation comes at a particularly important time because of the battles expected in Sacramento this year over efforts to restrict the number of people who have permits to carry guns.
He and his staff said the more than 80-year-old civil code authorizing state humane officers to carry guns is a loophole that must be eliminated.
"You can get denied a concealed weapons permit, join an animal rights group, go through a clerical process and take a short test and suddenly you have a right to carry a weapon in public," said Dan Reeves, senior consultant to Caldera and chief consultant to the gun violence committee.
"The lack of training and oversight seems ludicrous. It seems to me there is a huge window for abuse here that has to be shut," he said. "At the very least we need oversight, and we should not let these people carry guns. Basically, they are impersonating police officers."
The bill has the support of the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California, a lobbying group for rank-and-file police officers. The 39,000-member association will actively support the bill, said spokesman Pat Dean.
"We're offended they go around carrying guns with no training whatsoever," Dean said. "They don't answer to anybody."