The values of safety and therapy are clashing at the state’s mental hospitals, where police officers are pressing for clearance to carry guns.

Officers are not seeking to carry firearms on hospital grounds. Rather, the union that represents officers wants them to be armed when patrolling surrounding areas and taking patients to local hospitals and funerals.

The Department of Mental Health, determined to support treatment and recovery, is arguing to keep guns out of sight.
The issue has particular resonance in the months after psychiatric technician Donna Gross was fatally strangled by a patient at Napa State Hospital in October.

In response to that tragedy, hospital police are urging state authorities to conduct more thorough evaluations of patients, looking at gang affiliation, threats and potential for violence.

They are also escalating their effort to carry guns, even though a leader of the officers union acknowledges that the issue was brewing long before Gross died and that guns would not necessarily prevent a similar incident from occurring.

Rather, it would protect community members, patients and officers who find themselves in precarious situations, said Coby Pizzotti, legislative liaison for the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which represents the state hospital police.

“You’re a peace officer surrounded by gang members and you’re guarding a gang member,” Pizzotti said. “It’s a really precarious position to be in with just pepper spray.”

Pizzotti could not recall an incident when an officer, patient or community member was harmed as a result of the hospital police being unarmed.

Source: Christina Jewett for

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