The state's top prison watchdog has spent tens of thousands of dollars arming its auditors and lawyers with semiautomatic weapons and body armor under a "questionable" rationale that "presumes gun-toting auditors and lawyers will engage in police functions such as hand-to-hand combat and high-speed pursuits," according to a report released yesterday by the state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes.
The highly critical report [PDF] questions whether auditors and attorneys with the state Office of the Inspector General, an independent state office that investigates the prison system, should be classified as peace officers and given the benefits that designation provides, including training, weapons, access to a take-home car and more generous pension benefits.
Among other things, the report found that although no OIG peace officer has fired a gun or made an arrest in five years, the office spent more than $36,000 last year on ammunition, plus thousands more on weapons and training. One OIG staffer shot himself while putting in required time at the firing range.
About 105 of the office's 150 employees are sworn peace officers.
Inspector General David Shaw told investigators that classifying OIG employees as peace officers puts them on equal footing with the corrections officers they are supposed to be investigating. Giving auditors and lawyers the same standing as corrections officers provided them with the credibility needed to break through the "code of silence" among prison staff.
More generous pensions and other benefits also allow the office to recruit better investigators, Shaw said.
"The current benefit package is an inducement for current and future recruitment and retention," he wrote in a letter published with the report. "It is hard to attract attorneys and auditors to work in a prison and around inmates and parolees without some significant incentives."
The report does cite one example of an officer apprehending a thief who attempted to steal a television set from a Sam's Club store in Natomas.
Among the report's other findings:
- OIG staffers are expected to carry a gun and ammunition at all times, except for when they enter a prison.
- Arming and outfitting each officer costs about $2,050. Equipment includes a gun, body armor, collapsible baton, handcuffs, a home gun safe and a police badge. New officers must also put in 150 hours of law enforcement training.
- About 70 percent of the miles OIG peace officers put on their state take-home care are for home-work commutes.
- Of the 1,150 lawyers employed by the California attorney general, fewer than five are classified as peace officers. Only one carries a gun.