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Hancock seeks crackdown on gun-toting auditors

State Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock introduced a bill today that would strip the sworn peace-officer status from attorneys and auditors at the state Office of the Inspector General, the independent agency watchdogging the state prison system.

Hancock, D-Berkeley, says her SB 490 would save the state $3.7 million by eliminating the more generous benefits, training and equipment – including guns and cars – provided to the OIG’s 105 attorneys and auditors. In contrast, fewer than five of the Attorney General’s 1,200 attorneys and auditors have peace-officer status.

“This bill starts the process of eliminating the abuse of peace office status in state government and the resulting waste of taxpayer dollars,” Hancock said in a news release. “I want to insure that the Office of the Inspector General continues to carry out its work in a cost-effective manner. I do not believe that peace officer status for their attorneys and auditors is necessary.”

A report issued Nov. 30 by the Senate Office of Oversights and Outcomes entitled, “Gun-toting Auditors and Attorneys: Does the Inspector General Need 105 Armed Peace Officers?” found that outfitting each attorney and auditor with guns, holsters, handcuffs, ammunition and related equipment costs more than $2,000 per employee. The report also found their state-issued cars logged more than 700,000 miles for home-to-work commutes at no cost to the employees, representing about 70 percent of their total mileage.

The state Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee today unanimously approved a motion from Hancock – who chairs its Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary – to reduce the OIG’s budget by $3.4 million and reduce the number of sworn officers in the agency to 25 for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

OIG Chief Deputy Inspector Donald Currier told the Los Angeles Times last November that the office is willing to give up the guns and cars but not its peace-officer pensions, as the job still has risky assignments. “They’re not typical police duties, like CHP officers pulling people over all the time who they don’t know,” Currier said, “but their job is to ferret out criminal wrongdoing in prisons, including abuse of force by correctional officers.” The Times noted, however, that the state Senate report indicated other auditors who investigate criminal wrongdoing at public agencies do so without peace officer status.

UPDATE @ 4:55 P.M.: Hancock’s office clarified that her bill would prevent future OIG hires from getting the more generous pension plans available to peace officers, but current workers’ pensions are legally protected under current agreements. The $3.7 million figure doesn’t include any pension savings, just training and equipment.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Joe M.

    I applaud Senator Hancock for this rational, money-saving move. At the heart of this matter is the “3% at 50” pension scheme that is bankrupting the state, causing our public schools to close, among other budget cuts. Every concerned citizen should write to his/her state senator and assembly member and ask them to support S.B. 490. In fact, if S.B. 490 and other reforms of the “3% at 50” pension scheme fail to get enacted soon, I recommend that we vote down the tax increases at the upcoming special election(s). Common people shouldn’t be nickeled and dimed in order to support “peace officers” who retire at age 50 and earn $100,000+ in annual pensions for the rest of their lives. Save our schools! Support S.B. 490!