Grand jury dings supervisors for stance on concealed weapons


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The Orange County grand jury has a message for county supervisors, gun rights advocates and everyone else who disagrees with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens' plan to reduce concealed weapons permits: "Let the sheriff do her job."

That's the title of the grand jury report to be released today, according to a confidential copy obtained by The Orange County Register.

Hutchens has spent months arguing with local lawmakers and gun advocates over her plan to make it tougher to get gun permits.

Critics have said that Hutchens, a former division chief for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, is mistakenly bringing an L.A. standard to a staunchly Republican county. Hutchens argues she is just enforcing state law and refuses to use the permit issue to advance policy beliefs on gun rights.

"An orderly society is the goal. Public safety is the paramount consideration," concludes the grand jury report. "The fact that public clamor has reached the ears of politicians is irrelevant."

Hutchens was muted in her reaction to the report, thanking the grand jury through a spokesman for "looking at this issue from a factual and dispassionate basis."

Under California law, sheriffs and police chiefs have wide discretion in deciding what residents have a "good cause" that would enable them to carry a concealed gun in public. Former Sheriff Mike Carona established a policy that greatly expanded the number of permits during his tenure.
But there were also questions whether political supporters were being handed the gun permits in exchange for contributions. Indeed, a Register investigation into the permits found 95 instances where contributors were granted one. And federal prosecutors mentioned Carona's generosity with permits in their indictment against him. Carona was later found guilty of a single charge of witness tampering.

Hutchens – who was appointed to finish out Carona's term this summer – almost immediately announced the gun permit revision. Since she announced it in August, she has endured three controversial public hearings explaining the policy.

Meanwhile, supervisors have adopted resolutions suggesting she be more gun-friendly, with Supervisor Chris Norby even terming her revisions a "jihad."

Yet the grand jury also concluded that Hutchens is on the right track in developing a written policy regarding the granting of concealed weapons permits, alleging that a written policy didn't exist under Carona.

Hutchens utilized the services of an Aliso Viejo think tank called Lexipol to develop the department's new concealed weapons policy. That company has worked with 400 public safety departments throughout the state on concealed weapons issues.

Supervisors were surprised by the grand jury's conclusions.

"My board colleagues and I have never questioned the authority of the sheriff to establish a (concealed weapons) policy and carry it out as she sees fit," said board Chairwoman Pat Bates. "I have, however, expressed my disagreement with the sheriff's policy, in particular the revocation of existing permits and the mischaracterization that most of those permits were given as 'political favors' by the previous sheriff."

Norby questioned the effectiveness of the grand jury analysis noting, "the 'us versus them' attitude has come from the department, not from the board."

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Sheriff Hutchens reminds me of a former sheriff in Marion Couunty, IN. When the electedsheriff was killed in a car crash, the county supervisors appointed someone to fill his term. He spent almost his entire tie in office in Phoenix, AZ telling anyone who would halfway listen how badly he was beig treated in Indiana. the deputies had no supervision from the sheriff's chair, but only the existing brass. Since each supervisor did as he saw fit, morale was terrible, as the deputies received no support, and their hair length was more important than following department policy. Citizen complaints fell on deaf ears and it was the blackest time for a department which saw it higest moments under a true professional, Lee Eads.

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