Two state employees unions are at odds over legislation (AB 2623) -- by Assembly member Michael Allen (D- Santa Rosa) -- that would allow police officers at California state mental hospitals to carry guns, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Current law allows the Department of Mental Health to authorize officers at the state's five mental hospitals to carry guns. However, acting directors at the agency never have allowed it, according to the Bee.
Over the past 12 years, at least three bills have been introduced that would have allowed officers to carry a weapon without their employer's consent. None of the bills were approved by a committee.
Analysis of AB 2623
According to an analysis by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, arming officers at the facilities could cost more than $1 million, accounting for guns, ammunition, storage lockers and accessories. The estimate assumes that officers working different shifts would share weapons.
The analysis also found that the bill would create "unknown, but potentially significant ongoing costs" by creating a "new class of peace officers" who could lobby for higher pay and pensions because of their new responsibilities.
CSLEA Supports Bill
The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association supports the bill, saying that officers are in danger when transporting patients, patrolling hospital grounds and conducting traffic stops.
CSLEA lobbyist Coby Pizzotti said the committee's cost estimate for arming officers is high because facilities already have gun lockers so that workers can secure their personal firearms when they begin shifts.
CAPT Opposes Bill
The California Association of Psychiatric Technicians opposes the bill. The group argues that allowing guns on hospital grounds is unnecessary and hazardous, in addition to being contrary to hospitals' therapeutic mission.
Ken Murch, chief negotiator and lobbyist for CAPT, said, "While we greatly appreciate the efforts of the hospital police officers, our members also feel firearms on the grounds of state hospitals represent a slippery safety slope."
DMH Provides No Comment on Bill
Mental health department spokesperson Beth Willon would not comment on the legislation or why the agency does not allow officers to carry guns. Willon said that "providing the appropriate treatment for patients in a safe environment for both patients and staff remains a priority" (Ortiz, Sacramento Bee, 5/12).