Firearms could be issued to certain juvenile probation officers as a safety precaution, the department’s chief announced last week.
The four officers who would receive guns would then only supervise The City’s most dangerous youths and young adults under a plan that would give the officers a “required” level of safety.
Juvenile probation officers are sworn peace officers with the ability to make arrests, but they work in plainclothes and do not carry guns. Four probation officers would be assigned to a special “intensive probation services unit” and receive Police Department training and firearms, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer William Sifferman said Wednesday.
Currently, juvenile probation officers can call for police assistance to do compliance checks on high-risk youths.
Probation officer safety has become a key and contentious issue in recent months, after a Sept. 20 incident in which two probation officers doing a compliance check with two uniformed police officers encountered a 22-year-old on probation whose terms of release stated he could be searched. But the man drew a TEC-9 gun and was shot by one of the police officers.
The incident is emblematic of juvenile probation’s “changing nature,” Sifferman said. “The kids today are not the kids of 25 years ago,” he said, adding that youths today have increased access to firearms, and that means probation officers need an extra line of defense. “We can’t do nothing about this; we have to protect these guys.”
San Francisco has California’s only standalone probation department dedicated to juveniles. Adult probation officers in The City are armed.
Three other Bay Area counties — Marin, San Mateo and Sonoma — arm their juvenile probation officers; counties such as Alameda and Santa Clara “ship” serious juvenile offenders “to the adult side,” Sifferman said, but “we don’t have that ease of transfer.”
About 800 youths and young adults in The City are under juvenile probation supervision at any one time, Sifferman said. Adults who commit crimes as juveniles and are sentenced in juvenile court are supervised by the Juvenile Probation Department in some cases until they turn 25, Sifferman said.
The vast majority of youths on probation take advantage of counseling and educational opportunities, but it’s the troublesome “10 percent” — which includes youths sent back to county care from the state Division of Juvenile Justice, essentially state prison for youths — that present threats to unarmed probation officers.
Sifferman’s proposal will go before the Board of Supervisors on May 2. It does not require legislative approval, but he admitted that legislators opposed to the proposal “could make it difficult” during the upcoming budget process.
Supervisor John Avalos, who opposes the plan, questioned the notion that bringing more guns onto the streets increases safety.
“I think [the Juvenile Probation Department] should coordinate with armed police officers on the occasions that they have concerns for their safety,” he said.
Bay Area counties that provide firearms to juvenile probation officers:
Counties where only adult probation officers are armed:
Counties where neither adult nor juvenile probation officers are armed:
Source: S.F. Juvenile Probation Department survey