By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 18, 2008

SACRAMENTO -- -- Citing alleged abuse of badges issued by former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, the state Senate on Thursday rejected an effort to allow sheriffs and police chiefs to give badges to volunteers and retired law enforcement officers.

Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) said it was necessary to clarify the law after the state attorney general issued an opinion saying that state law prohibits anyone from giving a badge "that would deceive an ordinary, reasonable person into believing that it is authorized for use by a peace officer" to anyone who is not a sworn peace officer.

Cox said badges should be allowed for volunteers who help law enforcement with search-and-rescue, code enforcement and other duties, as well as for retired officers.

Other senators cited controversies involving alleged misuse of badges issued by Carona and other law enforcement leaders.

The legal opinion was issued after The Times reported that Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle and San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Mike Ramos had issued badges and that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca had issued identification cards to dozens of political supporters, creating an impression that they were legally empowered.

In other incidents, Carona's personal martial arts instructor was arrested on suspicion of flashing his badge and gun at a group of golfers he thought were playing too slowly.

"Badges should belong to law enforcement only," Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said. "The public should never have to guess who is the real or the not-real peace officer."

The debate was dominated by references to Carona, who is facing criminal corruption charges. He is accused of selling the power of his office for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.

Sen. Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) supported Cox, saying the bill directly addressed the issue raised by Carona's conduct by prohibiting the giving of badges to volunteers who serve on advisory boards.

"I'm from Orange County, and we have had a little problem with our sheriff who did hand out a lot of badges like this to volunteers, political supporters and people who made political contributions to his campaign. But this bill says you can no longer do that," Harman said.

In the end, Cox's bill, SB 1212, failed when only 12 senators voted for it; 18 voted in opposition. The legislation was supported by the California State Sheriffs' Assn. and California Police Chiefs Assn.

patrick.mcgreevy @latimes.com