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Few Want to Stay O.C. Reservists

Times Staff Writer

Although Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona spent years crusading for the reinstatement of scores of reserve deputies he appointed without proper background checks or training, only a handful want to get back in good standing.

The reserve deputies, many of them political allies of Carona, had been removed from the state’s list of peace officers because of unresolved background and training issues.

On Tuesday, responding to a public records act request filed by The Times, the Sheriff’s Department reported that only 15 of the original group of 86 reserves appointed by Carona planned to attend a police academy. The 162-hour training academy starts next week.

Seventeen other reservists agreed to be demoted to a rank that does not carry police powers; 11 resigned, and seven others never responded to the department’s invitation to attend the academy. Six more lack a prerequisite course for the academy. The rest had dropped out or been demoted earlier.

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The Sheriff’s Department said it had begun collecting badges and other equipment from those who chose to leave. Those who agreed to be reduced to Professional Service Reserves must turn in their badges and will be issued new ones, the department said.

The sheriff’s reserve program has been marred by controversy. Critics contend that appointments were political favors and that badges have been misused by reservists.

In one incident, a reserve deputy was arrested after allegedly waving his badge and gun at a group of golfers he believed was playing too slowly. He later pleaded not guilty to four felonies and is awaiting trial.

Carona has maintained that the appointments were not political favors and that there was never a public safety risk.

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The original group of 86 reserves included political allies and friends of the sheriff and his top assistants. They were deputized in 1999 shortly after Carona took office and days before the state stiffened training requirements. Department documents and memos indicate that warning signs -- including failed psychological exams, drug use and lying about a criminal history -- were overlooked during the application process.

All 86 were eliminated from the state’s peace officer database three years later, after the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training found that their background checks and training were still incomplete and concluded the appointments were rushed to avoid tougher training standards.

In his dispute with the commission, Carona argued the reserves were volunteers so were not subject to pre-employment background checks. He allowed the reserves to keep their badges and, in some cases, their department-issued guns, which have since been collected.

The debate ended this summer when the two sides agreed to a set of conditions under which the reserves could be reinstated, including completion of an eight-hour refresher course and graduation from a 162-hour academy.

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