THE LATEST ON BADGES FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
August 26, 2009
The question of whether one can give a badge to a non-peace officer, which resembles that of a full status peace officer, has been discussed and debated for years. In 2007, the California Attorney General (Opinion No. 06-307) concluded that giving an honorary badge to one who is not a peace officer would violate Penal Code section 538d(c) if the badge so resembled a genuine peace officer’s badge that it was likely to deceive “an ordinary reasonable person” into believing that the holder of the badge was a peace officer.
However, on August 17, 2009, the Attorney General published A.G. Opinion No. 07100 I which states that “a badge that resembles a peace officer’s badge may be provided to and displayed by a public employee who is not a peace officer, but who has been granted limited peace officer powers …. ” The AG notes that there are many employees who might exercise limited peace officer powers including, as examples, environmental control officers, city attorney investigators, code compliance officers, animal control officers and parking enforcement officers.
The AG states that “such badges may be provided to and displayed by these limitedpowers officers for use in the course and scope of their duties.” He goes on to opine that his office has “previously distinguished between attaining the status of a peace officer versus securing the authority to exercise peace officer powers, such as the power to arrest, issue citations, serve search warrants, or carry a concealed weapon.” (Emphasis in original.) The Attorney General points out that the Penal Code prohibits “the fraudulent impersonation or attempted impersonation of peace officers or other public officers.” However, he states, it is assumed the holders of the badges will “use their badges only for the purpose of truthfully representing themselves as officers with limited powers.”
The AG also recognizes that “to a member of the general public who is not familiar with the legal distinction between peace officer status and peace officer powers, a badge of this sort might reasonably appear to be the badge of a full-status peace officer.” (Emphasis in original.) In order to reduce the possibility of such confusion, the
AG states that it is also assumed “that the badges these officers display will accurately identify them by their specific limitedpowers positions…” The badges, therefore, should clearly identify the role of the badge holder, such as “Code Compliance Officer,” or “Parking Enforcement Officer.”
The City Prosecutor of the City of San Bernardino, which is a chartered city, requested this opinion. In the body of the opinion, the Attorney General makes reference to a charter city, however, the administration of a general law city can also appoint persons to positions which have limited powers of a peace officer and, therefore, this AG Opinion would apply in all of those cases, as well.
HOW THIS AFFECTS YOUR AGENCY
If the city or county in which you are situated has staff who fulfill any of these roles, and exercise limited peace officer authority, the city or county can lawfully issue badges which do resemble a full status peace officer’s badge to those personnel.
However, it is important that, on the face of the badge, it is clearly identified what the title is of the holder of the badge, so as to not confuse the reasonable person into thinking that the employee is a peace officer.