Melissa Pinion-Whitt, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/27/2009 02:49:11 PM PST

HIGHLAND – There’s a conflict behind the razor wire, chainlink fences and towering iron gates of Patton State Hospital. Some say it’s a long-standing power struggle between the state and union corrections officers.

Others say it’s a byproduct of the troubled financial times.

But whatever the issue is, Patton officials say one thing is certain: Security is not in jeopardy due to the reduction of more than a dozen corrections officers at the facility for the criminally insane.

“Our primary focus is to provide security for the perimeter of the facility. That hasn’t changed,” said Capt. Alex C. Hernandez with the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Thirteen corrections officers were shifted away from Patton to the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco last month, raising concerns by officers and San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Neil Derry about the safety of hospital staff and the surrounding community.

Some of the duties previously handled by the officers have been given to hospital police and Department of Mental Health personnel.

Derry argued that hospital police don’t have proper training to deal with Patton patients.

Patton officials disagree. Hospital police are immediately put through Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification upon hiring, said Patton Executive Director Octavio Luna.

Hospital police are given similar protective gear that corrections officers have, such as batons and pepper spray.

But some personnel with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation don’t think that’s enough.

“Training is one thing, doing it is another,” said Jim Stockman, chief job steward with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Since many patients at Patton are formerly inmates at state prisons, they know corrections officers “don’t fool around,” Stockman said.

Stockman said six hospital police officers called for backup several years ago when an inmate refused to go inside after taking a smoke break. The inmate picked up a bench and threatened officers.

A correctional officer entered the fenced courtyard to confront the patient.

“The patient dropped the bench, (laid down) and spread his arms out,” Stockman said.

But corrections officers aren’t the only ones concerned about the staffing changes. Department of Mental Health personnel have been compiling a list of concerns and safety suggestions to discuss with Patton officials, such as improved security measures on patient buses.

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