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Planned Fresno Probation Gun Buyback Program Runs Afoul of State Law and SEIU
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 1 week ago on
May 7, 2024

The Fresno County Probation Department planned to sell 156 Glock handguns and10 Remington shotguns to its officers, but the program didn't get off the ground because it broke state law and also was challenged by SEIU 521. (Shutterstock)

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A Fresno County Probation Department plan to sell surplus handguns and shotguns to its officers was stopped in its tracks after complaints from union members.

Selling the firearms is legal under state law within certain parameters. At the very least, only peace officers may buy surplus government agency weapons. In this instance, Probation had hoped to sell 166 firearms to its sworn peace officers for personal use.

However, the probation department canceled the proposed sale, “after further examination,” of the applicable law, AB 2699. SEIU 521 leaders say they could not help but notice the coincidence of the program’s cancellation weeks after they filed a grievance. The union represents department supervisors.

“There was no transparency on any of this,” said John Jasper, SEIU 521 Unit 36 vice president.

Because the union considered the offer to buy surplus department guns a benefit — and the department never consulted the union — SEIU 521 filed a grievance.

The law — passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature in 2020 and taking effect Jan. 1, 2021 — expanded the list of law enforcement agencies allowed to buy or sell so-called “unsafe” guns — also known as off-roster guns.

The law added the requirement that “the handgun is purchased or sold for use by the sworn officers of that entity as a service weapon,” and officers must meet certain training requirements.

Because the department planned to sell the weapons to its sworn peace officers for personal use, the program was scrapped, Chief Probation Officer Kirk Haynes wrote in an April 12 letter to union leadership.

The department last held a gun buyback program in 2018 before the law changed.

Magsig: County Counsel Told Probation to Scrap the Sale

Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig said county attorneys reviewed the program, and advised the department to scrap the sale because it did not comply with AB 2699. County counsel Daniel Cederborg said he could not discuss advice provided to his clients.

Haynes also held back comment.

“I am not going to be able to talk about those things because of the grievance, Haynes told GV Wire on Tuesday. He said he would make a comment once the grievance is resolved.

With the buyback cancelation, the department will return the firearms to an authorized dealer, county spokesperson Sonja Dosti said.

Department Offers Gun Buyback, Union Calls Foul

The department announced the gun buyback program to members in a March 7 email sent by training division chief Cliff Downing. The union questioned who received that email and how they were selected.

“Because the unsafe handguns would then have no other utility but for personal use, the Probation Department may not lawfully sell them to private persons, including its sworn officers.” — Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Kirk Haynes, in an April 12 letter to SEIU 521

Downing sent the email to 160 employees. Dosti said the department has 480 sworn officers, although only 147 carry arms. She said all those eligible received the email.

Probation has its own extra requirements, Dosti said, for sworn officers to carry weapons. Psychological examinations, arrest and firearms courses, and other specialty training are among the county standards.

“There were some people left off that were added on. There were some people deleted for unknown reasons. The department decided that they were going to have a process, outside AB 2669, and that was going to be their own internal process,” said SEIU’s Jasper.

The 2020 law required sworn pace officers to keep up on firearms training. Jasper said that not everyone on that initial list of 160 in the March 7 email would qualify.

Jasper estimates dozens more — including himself — should have received that email.

The two sides met in an informal process March 22 with no solution. The union filed an official grievance on March 29.

On April 12, Haynes addressed the law in a letter to SEIU.

“All the firearms the Probation Department would have sold through its now-rescinded firearm buy-back process are unsafe handguns under the (Unsafe Handgun Act),” Haynes wrote.

“Because the unsafe handguns would then have no other utility but for personal use, the Probation Department may not lawfully sell them to private persons, including its sworn officers.”

Haynes Questions Union Motives

Haynes questioned why the union had an interest in the program. It had nothing to do with wages, hours or employment conditions, he wrote: “[T]he Probation Department disagrees that this is relevant to SEIU’s representational responsibilities.”

Counters Riley Talford, SEIU 521’s chapter president: “You’re selling guns to employees, selected employees. We see this as a benefit, and we want to vet your process that you utilize to select people and to determine who’s eligible to purchase a firearm.”

The union sent a request for information on March 12, seeking more data. Talford said the union wanted information on how Probation determined the process, selected the recipients, and if the department received Board of Supervisor authorization.

“It was silence. We didn’t hear anything,” Talford said.

Haynes acknowledged not responding to the union’s request for information.

“The Probation Department maintains that the firearm buy-back process, even if it had occurred, would not be relevant to any mandatory subject of bargaining,” Haynes wrote.

With the cancelation of the program, Haynes said the grievance was “moot.”

Union Says Program Needed OK by Board of Supervisors

Jasper also accused the department of wanting to use a third-party gun dealer to handle the transactions without going through the county bidding process.

The entire process, Jasper said, should have utilized the county system for selling any extra goods.

“You’d had all that stuff out in the community without the Board of Supervisors’ approval. Bottom line. So the department head does not have that authority,” Jasper said. “I’ve seen it done the right way. And this is this is actually done the wrong way.”

Whether the Probation department needed BOS approval is unclear.

The union, in emails with the county, cited a management directive indicating the need for BOS consent.

Dosti said that “the purchasing agent shall use the methods and procedures that, in his judgment, will return the greatest value to the County” for items under $10,000 under county code.

In the March 7 email, the department listed 156 9mm Gen 4 Glocks for $225 each, and 10 Remington shotguns for $105 each, plus a $55 processing fee. Purchase could be made by cash or checks to the Fresno County Probation Department.

One gun sales expert GV Wire spoke with said those prices are in line for used models.

If all of the weapons were sold, the department would gross $36,150.

Jasper said the process Haynes and Downing created led to a conflict of interest.

The union said that included in the email were Jamee Haynes — Kirk Hayne’s wife; and Melissa Madsen, Cliff Downing’s wife. Both Haynes and Madden are also sworn probation officers.

“The conflict of interest just does not look right,” Jasper said.

Sheriff Does Not Sell Surplus Guns

Another county agency with gun-carrying officers, the sheriff’s department, said it does not sell its surplus firearms.

A department spokesperson said retiring deputies can keep their weapons.

“At retirement, any sworn deputy or sworn correctional officer who retires in good standing has the option of purchasing their duty handgun at its original cost,” Tony Botti told GV Wire.

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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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