Probation Officers Are Disarmed in 1st District
Probation officers who search for drugs and weapons in some of Los Angeles’ most dangerous neighborhoods will no longer be allowed to carry guns, according to county Probation Department documents obtained by The Times.
A department memo dated Thursday instructs the department to immediately “discontinue utilizing armed probation officers to carry out probation activities,” but only in the county’s 1st District, represented by Supervisor Gloria Molina.
Molina said she objects to having probation officers carry guns because it alters the relationships they develop with probationers.
Although Molina supported the change in policy, she said she had not specifically requested the revision.
“A probation officer is not a social worker, and they’re not a cop,” she said. “They’re in the middle, until you give them a gun. Then they’re a cop.”
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who once introduced a motion to arm all probation officers, criticized the new policy.
“These officers aren’t docents at the museum; they’re out on the streets at a time when we have epidemic gang violence,” Antonovich said.
“Keeping guns out of criminals’ hands ought to be the policy, not disarming peace officers in their efforts to enforce the law,” he said.
The county’s 3,574 probation officers, who run juvenile halls and camps for juvenile criminal offenders, also monitor convicted criminals who are on probation and who can be sent to prison if they violate probation terms.
According to the county, only 18 probation officers are now authorized to carry firearms while on duty.
Those officers are assigned to four interagency task forces that work on gang suppression, narcotics enforcement, illegal firearms recovery and “quality of life” crimes across the county, including downtown Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights, all areas in Molina’s district.
Another six probation officers have completed firearms training but have not been assigned to duties requiring firearms.
Saying the job is growing increasingly dangerous, the probation officers’ union has pressed the county for years to arm more of its officers. After an intense lobbying effort by the union, the Board of Supervisors approved a pilot program in 1999 that allowed six officers to carry handguns.
Molina opposed the move, which she said was more about union benefits than officer safety.
“It’s a union issue and it always has been,” she said. If you’re a gun-carrying officer, you get a more generous retirement than if you are a non-gun-carrying officer. That’s an unfortunate incentive.”
Chief Probation Officer Richard Shumsky, who authorized the new policy, acknowledged it had been done to satisfy Molina.
“She’s never really approved” of arming probation officers, Shumsky said.
“But there’s more than one way to safely perform our duties, and we’re consulting with her as well as with law enforcement to achieve our mutual goals.”
Shumsky and Molina said law enforcement officers could perform the duties now handled by armed probation officers in her district.
Molina said she “had no idea” why the memo had been sent on Thursday, though she has long opposed arming probation officers.
“That has been my policy from the beginning,” Molina said. “I don’t understand it.”
State legislation introduced in February would require firearms training and the issuing of a gun to any probation officer whose job involves a foreseeable risk of violence or significant physical harm.
The county’s chief administrative office has advised the Board of Supervisors to oppose the legislation, AB 340, saying it could increase the county’s general liability and retirement costs.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.