YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

`Do you know who I am?'

Perhaps nobody -- until somebody, like a legislator or a peace officer, gives you an official-looking badge.

January 22, 2007

WHAT'S THE POINT of contributing money to a winning candidate if you can't get anything in return -- such as, say, an official badge to wave at the cops when they pull you over?

Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) has issued an order banning distribution of official California State Assembly Commissioner badges simply because of an unfortunate incident last year, in which a man confronted by Redondo Beach police allegedly flashed a badge issued by Assemblyman Mervin Dymally (D-Compton) and announced, "You don't know who I am." Such statements -- "Do you know who I am?" would also have been acceptable -- go hand in hand with badge privileges. Or they used to. Now Nunez's ban places this august tradition in jeopardy.

Dymally, at least, handled the situation with typical aplomb. Asked about the dozen or so badges his office distributed, he explained that having one is not illegal. "If it is," he said, "arrest everybody. Arrest some white people too." Dymally has retrieved the badges after having been notified by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office that distributing them was, indeed, illegal.

There has been far too much of this spoilsport privilege revoking lately. Sure, an official badge placed in your wallet may falsely suggest that you are a law enforcement officer with the power to arrest. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to buy one. A campaign contribution ought to get you something tangible. So what if a civilian in the Riverside County sheriff's civilian support group allegedly used his courtesy badge in 2004 to demand money from an associate in a business dispute? Or that a man in 2005 allegedly used a similar badge, issued by the Orange County sheriff, to threaten golfers who were playing ahead of him.

Banning badges undermines a storied heritage of abuse of privilege -- a heritage with deep roots in L.A. It is here that a city police commissioner reportedly used his badge to bypass airport security in 1995, and a building commissioner allegedly used his badge while soliciting a prostitute in 1996. (We don't know if he said, "Do you know who I am?" while trying to strike his bargain, but we like to think he did.)

As for lawmakers' badges, Rules Committee Chairman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) told Nunez that the Assembly seal, "one of our most recognized symbols, must be protected to ensure the integrity of the institution."

OK, now we get it. We thought all this silly badge banning was to protect the public. But if it's the Assembly's reputation on the line, by all means: Ban those badges.

Los Angeles Times Articles