The issue of whether state hospital police officers should be allowed to carry guns comes up every so often. I have addressed it a couple of times over the past 35 years as a reporter and an editor. As an editor, I opined that hospital police should carry guns just like their counterparts in the state prisons.
According to a story carried by The Tribune last week, the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association believes that officers at the state’s five mental institutions are in “grave danger when transporting patients, patrolling hospital grounds and conducting traffic stops.” Those officers are prohibited from carrying firearms.
I agree and would add that the public could be in danger as well if a mental hospital prisoner attempts an escape while being taken to the dentist. I know that those in charge prefer to call their facility a “hospital.”
Years ago I reported an escape by an Atascadero State Hospital patient, and the institution’s public information officer corrected me, calling the act (of getting out) an “elopement.”
My son-in-law is a correctional officer at one of California’s prisons. He and his fellow officers carry guns.
I agree you wouldn’t want a hospital’s security force carrying guns inside the walls of the institution. That could create a danger of someone being overpowered and the weapon ending up in the hands of the inmates, oops, I mean patients.
The professional association that represents psychiatric technicians is against proposed legislation by Assemblyman Michael Allen, which would allow the hospital police to carry guns. There are also concerns about the cost of the guns and ammunition and related issues such as storage lockers and even pay increases for the officers who would be allowed to carry guns.
Dangerous patients who need to be transported are handled by correctional officers from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under an agreement for ASH.
But it only makes sense that hospital police officers be allowed to carry guns just like their counterparts at the prisons.
California’s mental hospitals, especially the one in Atascadero, house some very dangerous people who have committed horrible crimes.
The incidence of attacks on hospital workers is only one manifestation of this more violent mental hospital population.
I’ve always thought of Atascadero State Hospital as a prison, not a hospital. You have dangerous people locked behind bars, living in cells, all behind walls topped with razor wire.
Sounds like a prison to me, regardless of any pretense that we can somehow “cure” those who reside inside any more than we can rehabilitate those in California’s prison system.
Allowing hospital police to carry guns is long overdue.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for more than 45 years. He can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.