"Please be advised that as of March 31, 2011, the Assembly Sergeants-at-Arms Security Division will be carrying department-issued Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semi-automatic weapons full-time while they are on duty for the Assembly," Assembly Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Ronald Pane wrote in a March 31 letter to Senate Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Tony Beard, Jr.
Sergeants-at-arms, whose duties include protecting legislators and monitoring floor sessions, are far from the only layer of security at the Capitol. California Highway Patrol officers are already stationed at the Capitol, patrolling the building and grounds 24 hours a day, and visitors and staff must go through metal detectors and screenings upon entering the Capitol.
Pane said the move is not a response to current threat levels or a demonstrated need for more security, but meant to establish continuity in security policy and enhance "safety here at the Capitol." He said the Assembly's security personnel are already armed during large events at the Capitol and times when threat levels are high.
"We've been carrying weapons for years, but now we're carrying them a little more than part-time," he said in an interview, adding that the change will not require the purchase of new guns. "We just thought professionally and as far as providing the service we need to do it full time."
The policy affects roughly 17 employees, all of whom were trained at police academies and subject to peace officer standards training set for California law enforcement officials, he said.
Beard said while the subject of arming Senate sergeants-at-arms full time has been discussed over the years, any change in policy would require action by the Senate Rules Committee.
Beard, who has served in the post for three decades and whose father was chief sergeant in the Assembly, said years ago the force included former police officers "who made no bones about the fact that they carried .38s around." But he could not recall a time when sergeants carried guns as policy
"To judge then and now is just a different type of situation, a different world," he said. "The job's different. It's a much more complex job, a much more detailed job."
He said while he has seen more "inappropriate contact and much more confrontational attitude" toward staff and members from the public, an increase in threats wouldn't in his mind justify such a shift in policy.
"To make a jump that on a threat assessment basis, the response would be to be armed, I wouldn't condone that," he said. "There's levels of force and the ultimate, the gun, is the last thing you ever have to apply."
PHOTO CREDIT: The Assembly Chambers in November 2008. Brian Baer/Sacramento Bee file photo.