One of the most dangerous jobs in the country is that of public lands law enforcement officer. In light of that, and with a goal of providing better protection for national park visitors, the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police is calling for a better prepared law enforcement branch of the National Park Service.
A five-point plan that Lodge prepared was developed partly in reaction to a recent report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility showing a spike in attacks on park rangers and other federal land management employees.
“Assaults on park rangers used to be relatively rare,” said Randall Kendrick, Ranger Lodge Officer, noting that National Park Service rangers are now among the most-assaulted federal law enforcement employees. “Now, not only are these assaults becoming more common, but the intensity of incidents has increased.”
In the eyes of the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge, support, training and management attention to law enforcement needs within national parks are all on the decline, a release from PEER noted. To reverse this trend, the Lodge officers offered a five-point plan to increase both ranger and visitor safety, including:
* Meeting minimum staff levels recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police;
* Upgraded training for and screening of new officers; and
* Distinctive marking for patrol cars so that visitors can more easily and quickly summon law enforcement assistance.
“We are now at the point where new rangers are issued firearms almost as old as they are,” Mr. Kendall added. “There is no standardized screening for new rangers who often have to wait for months in the field exercising full law enforcement responsibilities before they get trained.”
PEER has been tracking assaults and threats against federal resource and land management employees since 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing. Its latest report showed that reported incidents rose more than 40 percent in areas patrolled by the U.S. Park Police and by more than 12 percent in national parks during 2012.
Unlike every other agency, however, the National Park Service does not even keep records of assaults and threats against non-law enforcement employees, PEER said.
“This plan highlights glaring gaps which suggest that law enforcement and visitor safety are not high priorities inside our national parks. These conditions will only get worse under tighter budgets unless there is an organizational attitude adjustment,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The first step is that Park Service leadership needs to start listening to its rangers.”