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May 2013
Recent corrections officer shooting brings officer safety to forefront

A team of law-enforcement agents armed and wearing tactical gear enter the home of a gang member.

The team quickly gathers up all the occupants while going room to room, making sure the home is secure and safe.

In one room, posted on a wall is a newspaper article with a picture.

Nate Scarrano, a supervising San Bernardino County probation officer, walks up to the article and recognizes the man in the picture.

It's him.

"This guy had my picture up in his house," recalled Scarrano, then a SMASH Gang team member.

Scarrano and all law-enforcement agents are always reminded to be vigilant when it come to safety, but the recent shooting of a Chino corrections officer at a Colton gas station has been a sobering reminder to many that danger can be lurking around any and every corner.

"It definitely reminds us to remain vigilant and brings an awareness of these kinds of things," said Pomona police Lt. Joann Guzek.

The Chino corrections officer, who remains hospitalized in critical condition and whose identity continues to be withheld by authorities, was shot in the face at the Colton gas station. He was wearing his corrections uniform pants as he pumped gasoline into his vehicle.

Two Riverside gang members, Anthony Gomez, 31, and Christopher Marquez, 26, have been arrested in connection with the shooting.

While it's unclear if it was a targeted attack, records at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation show Gomez had spent time at the California Institution for Men in Chino, where the corrections officer worked.

There is some evidence attacks on law-enforcement agents is on the rise.

According to Glenn McGovern, the author of the recently published study, "Murdered Justice: An Exploratory Study of Targeted Attacks on the Justice Community," in the first three and a half years into the decade starting in 2010 there have been 15 attacks in the nation. There were six in the 2000s, six in the 1990s and two in the 1980s.

McGovern doesn't give one specific reason why attacks have increased. It is most likely a combination of factors, he said in his report.

There has been some speculation Gomez may have recognized the corrections officer.

"This is a part of the job we in law enforcement always have to be vigilant about," said Scarrano, who spent several years working the county gang detail. "From the time you're in the academy, you are taught not to identify yourself as law enforcement while off duty, not just for your safety but for the safety of your family and those around you as well. "

Some state prisons have lockers that corrections officers can use to change in and out of their uniforms, said state corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

But there is no policy with regard to wearing uniforms off duty, she said.

"They are reminded to always be vigilant," Thornton said.

The Chino corrections officer is recovering, Thornton said.

"He's recognizing people now and is much more alert, but he has a long road ahead of him," she said.

But it's not just those on patrol making arrests or guarding inmates who have to be careful.

County Probation Department spokesman Chris Condon hasn't worked directly with probationers in more than a decade, but he said he still takes precautions even though he now serves in an administrative role.

"Some of the people I put away may be out my now and I may not necessarily recognize them but they could still recognize me," Condon said.

When Scarrano found that picture of himself on the wall of that gang member's home, he and the SMASH Gang team were doing regular sweeps in an effort to curb the gang violence in the High Desert.

McGovern's study says nearly 70 percent of the attacks on law-enforcement and justice system officials from 1950 to 2012 were motivated by revenge.

The May 2 shooting has not yet led to any changes in policy for the state corrections agency, said Thornton, because the Colton Police Department, the lead agency on the case, has not yet concluded its investigation.

"It's unfortunate that people would want to target officers," said Lt. Guzek, "but most departments take measures to train and help safeguard their officers."



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