TWIN FALLS — County probation officers conduct visits armed only with pepper spray.
That could change soon. On Feb. 18, the Twin Falls County Commission discussed arming county probation officers with handguns or stun guns. Changes could be made following this year’s budget sessions.
County Commission Chairman Don Hall said arming probation officers could be a good idea because there have been shifts in who those officers visit. The number of people who face felony charges, but have not been convicted, has gone up.
A couple of decades ago, about 80% of county probation officer visits for misdemeanor offenders or people awaiting trial for misdemeanor offenses.
Now about 90% of county probation officer visits are to people who have been charged — but not yet tried — for felonies. Convicted felons are the responsibility of the state, not the county. Twin Falls probation services handle on average between 100 and 150 presentenced felony cases at a time.
On top of that, Twin Falls’ population growth means the demands on county probation officers are growing.
“The level of risk for our employees and for the community in this respect has increased,” Hall said.
The county has six probation officers that work in two teams of three. The County Commission discussed different ways of arming the department. One way would be to hire an additional officer for probation services, who would be armed.
That employee could help the department deal with cases and also go through additional training for firearms or stun guns. Training would be provided by the sheriff’s department.
Twin Falls County Misdemeanor Probation Manager Jennifer Homberg said she’s not sure if arming people in her department is a good idea. She said that having probation officers unarmed hasn’t led to any issues in her 26 years with the department.
“I don’t know how necessary it is,” Homberg said about arming probation officers. “I think we need to look at this seriously … What message we’re putting out there by arming staff.”
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