Over the objections of an employee association, the Board of Supervisors approved a plan this week to covert 11 deputy marshal positions into lower-salaried "court services officer" positions.
County Marshal Michael S. Carona proposed the changes in an effort to cut costs. In a letter to the board, Carona stressed that the plan will not result in any layoffs and will "guarantee continuing safety and security in all court operations and for courthouse tenants and visitors."
Both deputy marshals and court services officers are armed and have the authority to make arrests. Because court services officers are not fully sworn peace officers, however, they receive a smaller salary and enjoy fewer benefits than marshals.
A representative of the Assn. of Deputy Marshals of Orange County expressed fear at Tuesday's board meeting that using the lower-grade officers in the courts could create safety problems.
"Prisoners in the court system are just one step away from freedom," said Mark Reed, of the association. "They are also just one step away from the judge, the public or anyone else between them and freedom."
Carona responded by noting that the Sheriff's Department already uses some non-sworn officers to staff county jails.
While the board approved Carona's request, it asked him to bring the issue back to the board if he later concludes that the staffing conversion might compromise safety.