A hostage crisis at a state veterans home on Friday prompted a California law enforcement union to repeat its appeal to arm the officers who provide security at state hospitals and veterans' facilities.
Fewer than nine unarmed state public safety officers work at the Yountville Veterans Home in Napa County, where a man armed with a rifle exchanged gunfire with police and took three employees of a veterans counseling program hostage.
The California State Law Enforcement Association, a union that represents a variety of public safety employees, released a statement on Friday afternoon urging the California Department of Veterans Affairs to begin arming officers at Yountville.
"Despite being unarmed, they are tasked with the responsibility of protecting a very large campus of residents, staff, and visitors 24 hours a day, and local law enforcement relies on these public safety officers as the front-line security for the hospital," the statement read.
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Officers there cannot issue citations or protect themselves with firearms, but in other respects look like cops, said CSLEA senior counsel Ryan Navarre.
The union has urged state leaders for several years to arm the public safety officers it represents.
In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have required the Department of State Hospitals to begin arming CSLEA-represented officers at its sites. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and by a 78-1 margin in the Assembly.
Brown in his veto message wrote that the department director can make the decision without a new law explicitly ordering her to arm peace officers.
"I am sensitive to the unique challenges of providing security in our states' mental hospitals," he wrote. "This is a matter, however, best left to the discretion of the department director who already has authority to arm its officers."
Separately, CSLEA has tried to persuade the Department of Veterans Affairs to arm officers under an existing law. The union argues the officers should have weapons both to protect people at state institutions, and to protect themselves when they transport troubled patients to other sites.
"It's just delay, delay, delay. They don't want to do it," CSLEA senior counsel Ryan Navarre said.
June Iljana, deputy secretary for communications at the veterans department, said CSLEA was exploiting a hostage situation.
"While families are still waiting to hear from loved ones, and law enforcement remains on the scene, this group is already attempting to exploit and politicize tragedy," she said, in an e-mailed statement. "This is inexplicable, inappropriate and inexcusable and our focus remains on supporting the veterans community, emergency personnel and everyone else impacted."
The Yountville home is a 615-acre campus that houses up to 1,000 veterans of all generations. It also hosts community programs for children and has a golf course.
The incident unfolded on Friday when a gunman walked into the campus and took several people hostage. Napa Sheriff John Robertson said the gunman also exchanged rounds with deputies.
Late Friday, the gunman held three hostages who worked for a counseling organization called the Pathway Home, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the gunman was a veteran who had been asked to leave the program in the past week. He said the hostages were Pathway Home employees who had worked with the gunman.
Most state workers at the Yountville home are represented by Service Employees Union Local 1000. Its president, Yvonne Walker, said "our hearts are with the families who are affected by this senseless act in the Yountville Veterans Home. We are monitoring this situation closely."
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