Unarmed Police Officers Dodge Life-Threatening Situation

This time it occurred at the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, but the situation repeats itself at 12 state hospitals run by the California Departments of Mental Health and Developmental Services every day-the fully sworn peace officers these agencies put out to defend their facilities and the people inside them are prohibited from having firearms by their sides when they need them most.

“Why must it take a death of a courageous hospital police officers in order for the management of these two departments to wake up to this urgent public safety need?,” said Alan Barcelona, president of the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which represents the hospital police. “Why don’t lessons from the horrific tragedy in Lakewood, Washington sink into policymakers? Were it not for the firearm of one of the dying officers in the ambush, the assassin would never have been wounded and slowed down in time for another officer to finally end this murderer’s rampage with a firearm the officer needed to shoot to save himself and society.”

On Monday, Nov. 30, a man who badly beat a woman passenger who was riding with him turned from Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa into the Fairview Developmental Center, shoved her out of the vehicle, and then turned as if to run her over, according to witnesses who shouted at him that they called the police. Quickly responding hospital police officers were tending to the woman when the man came upon them. As all officers at all state hospitals do, they first hope the central players in any violent situation never notice that they have no firearm by their side to draw. Fairview officers subdued the man, patted him down, and detained him. He is now facing an attempted murder charge, among other things.

Fairview is no stranger to outside criminal excitement that likes to visit it more often than its administration would like to admit. A few years ago, the developmental center’s executive director was shot inside his office, and amazingly this still did not prompt DDS to change policy. Monday’s incident was—guess where-outside the executive director’s home. Nearby apartment dwellers around Fairview are also no strangers to the hospital police, as many of them know to call them first, because they can often arrive faster than the Costa Mesa Police Department. This is how it is at state hospitals.

  • On Dec. 10, an off-duty Patton Hospital police officer will be awarded a Medal of Valor for saving at least three lives because he was able to pull out a firearm that would have been prohibited to him while on duty in the same situation. (See www.alanbarcelona.com for the full story).
  • At Napa State Hospital, officers patrolling a secluded outskirts of its property found a knife on a suspicious visitor. When asked if he had any other weapons on him, the man said ‘no.’ An officer then noticed a heavy object in the man’s jacket pocket. When the officer reached for the pocket, the man suddenly pulled away and grabbed for his pocket. The officers reacted quickly and grabbed his wrists and handcuffed him. In his pocket, they discovered a .22 caliber revolver loaded with eight rounds of ammunition.
  • At Lanterman Developmental Center in Los Angeles County, a credit union on the grounds has been robbed twice, the second time was minutes before an unarmed officer began his patrol of the credit union’s parking lot.

On and on it goes. “The vast acreages some of these hospitals sit on are mini-cities that invite the same types of crime as the surrounding communities,” said Lorenzo Indick, president of the Hospital Police Association of California. “The people we guard are those incapable of functioning in society or too ill to be tried or too dangerous to be paroled. The people we protect are the doctors, staffs, visitors, and family members of these facilities, as well as patients from harming each other. We are also sometimes the first-responders to emergency situations in nearby communities, and our K-9 units are often borrowed by other law enforcement agencies to sniff out bombs and drugs. In addition to all that enormous responsibility, we also must fight against the increasing amount of crime and violence that spills in from outside communities. Criminals don’t recognize the boundaries of anything. Why do we have to wait until someone gets shot or killed before we’re allowed the firearms to protect us and the people we serve? Dying in the line of duty is something we all face. Dying because of dangerous public policy is something none of us should have to face.”

Indick’s association represents 520 police officers employed by the Department of Mental Health at Atascadero, Coalinga, Metropolitan, Napa, and Patton state hospitals and 150 officers employed by the Department of Developmental Service at Agnews, Fairview, Lanterman, Porterville, Sonoma, Sierra Vista, and Canyon Springs developmental services. More about the duties of these officers can be found at http://www.cslea.com/Affiliates/HPAC

For additional information, click here.

Statewide Law Enforcement Association December 2009 press release.

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