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ATTORNEY GENERAL HEEDS OWN ADVICE ON BADGES STATE OFFICIAL ISSUES RECALL AFTER WARNING OTHER AGENCIES TO BE WARY OF GIVING THEM OUT.

Byline: STEVE GEISSINGER

Oakland Tribune

SACRAMENTO -- The Attorney General's Office is reclaiming honorary police-type badges it distributed to its 1,200 staff attorneys in Los Angeles and elsewhere because of the potential for misuse.

In turn, local enforcement agencies have been advised to review their honorary-badge policies after the Attorney General's Office determined the practice illegal because badges could be misused by people who are not sworn peace officers.

Cases have come to light over the years in Southern California involving people attempting to avoid traffic citations or gain entry to restricted events by flashing honorary badges.

The agencies that issue the badges -- and by extension, taxpayers -- could be subject to civil liability for any injury resulting from misuse of such a badge, according to a formal opinion issued by the Attorney General's Office.

Around the state, honorary badges have been handed out to an untold number of city council members, county supervisors, animal-control officers, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement auxiliary groups, ceremonial mounted posses, courtroom clerks, emergency dispatchers and others.

The attorney general's opinion was requested by a Riverside County official after controversies there and in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. There were published reports involving misuse of honorary badges issued by law enforcement agencies or state legislators.

Earlier this year, the Legislature banned members from issuing honorary badges.

In Riverside County, prosecutors and Sheriff's Department volunteers and employees other than sworn sheriff's deputies will no longer carry badges issued by the sheriff, officials said.

The attorney general's staff noted that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had issued identification cards at one point to political supporters and that the San Bernardino County district attorney had issued honorary badges. Those cards and badges have been returned to authorities.

One controversy arose after a legislative staffer for Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, showed a legislative badge during an arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. It was one of several such badges purchased by Dymally and handed out to family, staff, donors and others.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, promptly banned legislators from issuing honorary badges.

The Attorney General's Office, in addition to issuing a formal opinion, ordered a recall of badges the office had issued to staff members over the years.

"The attorney general's deputies are in the process of turning the badges in throughout the state," said Gareth Lacy, a spokesman for Attorney General Jerry Brown. Lacy said the badges were issued long before Brown took office in January.

Badges are being collected from deputy attorneys in the Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego offices. New badges are being prepared that clearly say "Not a peace officer" on their face.

"It's up to the individual attorneys whether they want a new one, whether they want (another) credential, or nothing," Lacy said. "They don't have to have anything."

steve.geissinger(at)angnewspapers.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 4, 2007
Words:478
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