Santa Clara County, Calif., may soon equip a select group of probation officers with firearms for the first time – a move the probation chief describes as necessary for the protection of her employees, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The push to arm probation officers who supervise more than 700 of the most serious juvenile and adult offenders returned to their communities has brought strong criticism from some justice experts. They say the overwhelming presence of a gun undercuts the officers’ critical role connecting ex-offenders with treatment, jobs and education while they monitor the terms of their probation – a vital part of the job which is part-cop, part-social worker.
Union members and elected officials appear to support the change. San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin arm some probation officers. But Barry Krisberg, a senior fellow at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, called the plan a “very bad idea that should be avoided at all costs.” Krisberg said police officers are armed; probation officers need a markedly different approach. “The issue boils down to: Are these people law enforcement officers, or are they treaters and helpers?” Krisberg said. “You can’t be delivering cognitive behavioral therapy with a gun strapped to your waist. The therapeutic relationship is inhibited and destroyed by someone carrying a gun openly.”