In light of the uproar I stumbled upon by voicing opposition to legislation that would allow folks to carry concealed weapons in national parks, I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the crime statistics compiled by the National Park Service.
Sadly, as with most spots on this Earth, national parks are not entirely safe havens. At the same time, the statistics demonstrate that they are among the safest spots you can find yourself in.
According to 2005 statistics covering all investigations conducted by both national park rangers as well as the U.S. Park Police, which largely focuses its jurisdiction on metropolitan areas that contain NPS units, such as Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco, the per-capita crime rate for violent crimes, burglary, theft and arson is roughly 1 in 1.4 million.
"Serious crime against persons in national parks are extremely low under existing federal law," says Karen Taylor-Goodrich, the Park Service's associate director for visitor and resource protection. "There are no discernible facts or statistics that demonstrate the need for visitors to carry concealed weapons."
That said, here are some numbers from the Park Service:
Throughout 2005, there were eight homicide/manslaughter cases investigated by NPS rangers and five investigated by the U.S. Park Police. Of that total, NPS officials tell me that in roughly half of those cases the murders were actually committed off NPS jurisdiction with the victims later left within parks.
There also were 32 forcible rapes reported to NPS rangers, and five attempted forcible rapes.
Among the other stats:
* Four robberies involving a firearm were investigated by park rangers, while five were reported to U.S. Park Police.
* One robbery involving a knife was investigated by park rangers, two were investigated by U.S. Park Police.
* There were four robberies involving "other dangerous weapons" reported to park rangers, 11 investigated by U.S. Park Police.
* There were four kidnappings reported to park rangers, one to U.S. Park Police.
* There were eight aggravated assaults involving a firearm investigated by park rangers, seven reported to U.S. Park Police.
* Thirteen aggravated assaults involving knives were reported to park rangers, 11 to U.S. Park Police.
The largest number of crimes in any single category under the so-called "serious crimes" segment involved larceny-theft, with 3,158 incidents reported to park rangers during 2005 and 538 reported to U.S. Park Police.
In all, during 2005 there were 3,967 "serious crimes" investigated by park rangers. Given the roughly 280 million visitors to national parks during 2005, that number translates into a per-capita crime rate of 0.00001416785.
Under current NPS policies, "carrying or possessing loaded firearms in park areas is generally prohibited, although firearms may be transported in a vehicle through any park area as long as the firearm is rendered temporarily inoperable (ammunition separated from firearm) and stored in a manner that prevents ready use.
"Sixty-one NPS units authorize hunting activities and firearms may be used/carried during open hunting season in those areas as determined by state law."
Over at the National Parks Conservation Association, officials say the best approach to combating crime in the parks is to properly fund the Park Service.
"If Congress wants to address safety issues in the parks, the best thing it can do is to provide the parks with the funding they need to adequately fund park rangers, who patrol the parks, keeping our visitors safe, as well as educating and inspiring the millions of visitors to the parks every year," says Blake Selzer, the group's legislative liaison.