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Sheriff Offering a Badge and Gun to Celebrities

June 18, 1999|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jay Leno, Steven Seagal and a host of other celebrities and prominent people may soon join the ranks of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department as "executive reserves," officials said Thursday.

Sheriff Lee Baca has set up the special reserve program that will allow celebrities, executives, star athletes and a variety of other notables to sign up with the department.

If the new reservists complete 64 hours of training and pass the department's background check, officials say, they will be given a badge and can carry a gun. Those who do not complete the abbreviated academy course can still join the elite corps as "volunteers," but will not be able to carry a concealed weapon with the department's blessing. Sources say Leno and Seagal will probably opt for the latter.

Although the program is designed to involve more high-profile people in various Sheriff's Department events, some department members say they are worried that it will be abused--particularly by those seeking a backdoor way to secure a concealed weapons permit.

"There is something to be said for being able to command a Jay Leno or an Oscar De La Hoya for a grand opening," said Dennis Slocumb, president of the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn. "But if it's there to reward campaign supporters, then I have a problem with that . . . and if there is no necessity for them to have a gun, then why do they have it?"

Assistant Sheriff Larry Waldie, however, said the sheriff is merely "trying to get some really prominent members of the community, either business executives or entertainers, to assist us to have better liaisons with the community."

"When you have a big-name star, it will be a great draw," Waldie said.

In addition to Leno and Seagal, officials have asked Lee Iacocca and Utah Jazz player Bryon Russell to join, sources say. Other people being considered for the program include the grandchildren of former Sheriff Peter Pitchess.

"We're in the process of taking applications," said Capt. Doyle Campbell, who is in charge of the department's reserve program. "We have about 30 people who have expressed an interest. Nobody has signed up completely."

In addition to having to submit to background checks, applicants will also be expected to undergo random drug testing, according to officials.

"We're doing the whole nine yards," Waldie said.

The department has several reserve programs for regular citizens, who are also allowed to carry guns if they complete the proper training. In one of the programs, reservists actually work in radio cars and help deputies patrol the streets. In another program, mountaineers and medical professionals are called on to help with search and rescue operations.

It has been years since the department granted badges to people simply because they are prominent.

Pitchess did away with the practice in the 1960s because he believed it led to a "lack of professionalism," longtime department members said. Also, the county can be held liable for any actions the reservists take while on duty.

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