State

Guns in Turlock generally go to politicians, people with police ties

TURLOCK -- People in Turlock who want concealed weapon permits might consider running for office.

Of the seven permits issued by Turlock police, two belong to City Council members. And while Councilmen Ted Howze and Kurt Spycher don't feel they got preferential treatment, Police Chief Gary Hampton confirmed that they did.

"I do take into consideration people who hold political office," Hampton said Wednesday, adding that he licensed unnamed politicians when he was chief in Oakdale before going to Turlock in the summer of 2006. His reasoning includes "realizing there is a great potential for an act of violence committed against people who hold office," he said.

Hampton clarified his unique arrangement with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department, which has authority to issue concealed gun permits to any resident throughout the county. About two years ago, Hampton asked Sheriff Adam Christianson not to approve permits requested by Turlock residents without first sending them to Hampton's office, he said.

Permit data and interviews with the sheriff and chief, however, suggest that that may not always happen.

Fifty-two Turlock residents had concealed gun permits with the Sheriff's Department in 2008 and 2009, including 22 first-time applicants and 30 renewals. Hampton said his office received 10 inquiries in 2009.

In a brief e-mail Thursday, Christianson said, "While I respect the chief's request, it is not a mandate and I still have the authority and discretion to issue (permits) to any resident of Stanislaus County."

Howze and Spycher were elected to the City Council in November 2006, attended the same firearms course and received concealed weapon permits on the same day in October 2008. Both said they have good reasons for wanting self-protection; neither was aware that they have two of seven issued by Turlock police.

"It has nothing to do with being an elected official," Howze said. "It was just coincidental that we ended up with them at the same time."

Howze, a large-animal veterinarian, and Spycher, a farmer, often work in remote locations at odd hours, they said.

"I run into unsavory characters quite often," said Spycher, adding he has found the remains of several illegal meth laboratories in his orchards. He'd had a concealed weapon permit issued in Merced County, where he lived previously, for more than 20 years, he said.

Howze said, "I'd always heard how tough (permits) were to get, so I never asked" before getting elected. With frequent contact after, "it was convenient to ask," he said, "but I thought I'd have to go through the sheriff."

Howze said he "had no idea whether it was seven or 700" permits issued by police.

The other Turlock residents licensed by Hampton are two retired law enforcement officers, a police volunteer, a prominent businessman and one man whose profession was not able to be determined by The Bee.

Across Stanislaus County, Christianson has approved permits for some judges as well as for six current or former elected office holders. The list of 564 permittees also features well-known businesspeople and former candidates.

For a Bee story last week, Christianson said he respects Hampton's request "not to issue concealed wea-pons permits to people who live in city limits," and said Hampton is the only chief in the county asking for that courtesy.

A Bee review of data provided through a Public Records Act request shows that Christianson has issued 52 two-year permits to Turlock residents, compared with the seven approved by Hampton. The trend holds true in Modesto as well, where police issued 71 permits compared with 127 approved by the sheriff.

Hampton said he asked the sheriff to steer applicants his way because "we want to be aware of anyone in our community who feels their safety is in grave danger." Also, dispatchers can alert officers responding to calls if people at a given location have permits to carry concealed guns, the chief said.

Turlock police received 10 inquiries in 2009, Hampton said, and five chose not to submit formal applications after speaking with him or Sgt. Ninus Amirfar. Hampton approved four of the remaining five, he said.

The chief took exception to remarks made by Turlock police Capt. Rob Jackson in a Bee story published April 4. In the story, Jackson questioned whether law enforcement agencies can "protect every person, every day. People have a right to defend themselves."

Jackson has no part in Turlock's process for issuing permits, Hampton said. Jackson is running for sheriff against Christianson on the June 8 ballot.

Hampton said crime in Turlock has decreased 20 percent in the past 28 months. He issues concealed weapon permits only to those who demonstrate a credible threat to life and have no other way to lessen that danger, he said, citing case law.

That nearly 30 percent of police- issued permits belong to politicians is not "arbitrary or capricious," he said, citing a court-approved test of that standard.

"If that standard is proven to be a disservice to the community, I'll certainly revisit it. But what we're doing seems to be working well," he said. "It's difficult for me to believe it's necessary to issue more concealed wea-pons licenses when it's more safe than it was two years ago."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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