Tuesday, August 01, 2006

California park rangers losing bid to become armed

Park rangers working for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District near San Francisco continue to have their requests to become armed denied despite hazardous working conditions. Why won't the district's board allow the rangers to carry guns? They are afraid that the public will percieve them as police officers. Now let's see if we can analyse this logic. We want park rangers to enforce the laws, but we don't want the public to think that park rangers are law enforcement officers. Hmmm...Don't see any flaws there. Seems like a solid plan.

Park rangers' gun bids likely to be shot down (Oroville Mercury Register)

"A lot of people key in right away to the fact that we don't have a gun. A lot of people also think that means we don't have any authority." he said.

The issue of ranger protection has come up many times in the district's 34-year history, but rangers decided to bring it back again after a major marijuana bust on the district's Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve in Santa Clara County last summer resulted in the shooting of a California Department of Fish and Game warden and the death of a suspect guarding the site. A district ranger discovered the pot field and contacted authorities, which led to the bust.

"It was a real eye-opener that this kind of activity was happening on public land," said John Lloyd, a ranger on Skyline Boulevard and president of the district. Lloyd said he regularly discovers trail signs full of bullet holes and spent casings on the ground.

Craig Britton, district general manager, said it was highly unlikely that a ranger would ever find himself in a shootout. Because they do not carry a gun, they are instructed to leave the scene at the first sign of trouble and call for backup from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which has the power to intervene.

"I don't know of any incident in the history of the district where it's been necessary to draw a weapon," said Britton, who added that the rangers' presentation was not likely to alter district policy on bearing a gun. "I've been here 30 years, and it's always been a priority of the board not to carry weapons."

Neither Lloyd nor Barresi have ever had occasion to use their pepper spray or batons to defend themselves on the job. Only three such cases have arisen since the district was founded in 1972, according to Britton. A report issued by an independent analyst in 1998 found the idea of rangers carrying guns problematic, because it would cause the public to perceive them as police officers, as well as make them more of a target for violence.

Rangers counter that they already look like police officers, so they might as well have a similar mandate. "We're in uniform. We wear the same colors as the Santa Clara Sheriff's Department wears. We look the part of law enforcement, and we're peace officers under the penal code," Lloyd said.

East Bay Regional Park District has a designated category of police officers who carry guns; its rangers do not. Santa Clara County's Parks and Recreation District rangers stopped being armed in the 1980s.

Rangers have long complained that the district's rules of engagement mean they have to wait up to an hour for backup to arrive from the sheriff's department. In the meantime, they are sometimes trapped in a critical situation.

Loro Paterson, an 18-year veteran of the district, remembers one night in the mid-1990s when a poacher began shooting at her patrol vehicle on the Montebello open space preserve. Paterson drove to a clearing, radioed for backup and waited, unarmed, in her car for officers to arrive. "The first responding officer got lost. The second officer got to the scene 44 minutes later," she recalled. If a fellow ranger had been allowed to intervene, Paterson said, the poacher might have been caught.

Another time, Paterson gave first aid to a 4-year-old boy who had been attacked by a coyote in the Windy Hill reserve in Portola Valley. The animal stayed close by for a long time, but Paterson was powerless to shoot him. Eventually it left, and in the ensuing weeks officials had to shoot seven coyotes to make sure they had gotten the right one. Paterson said a gun was "basic law enforcement equipment." People come to us for protection and help and, in a worst-case scenario, we're not able to provide the help they're looking for," she said.

Britton said the district had responded to rangers' past security concerns by distributing body armor, upgrading its radio system, and issuing a new operating manual. He said the district might consider hiring a member of the sheriff's department to patrol its preserves full-time, but arming rangers was likely out of the question. "Speaking personally, I don't think a gun equals safety. I think a gun equals danger," Britton said.


Ian Rutter said...

I live in the Smokies where a ranger was killed by a rifle wielding kook several years ago on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Law enforcement is law enforcement, regardless of the uniform.

Ranger Gord said...

Thanks! It is always nice to hear public support of armed rangers. Personally I wouldn't perform any law enforcement duties without a side arm. It is just not safe.

Ranger Bob said...

Oh, fer Pete's sake. It's nearly 30 years ago I was working as a seasonal patrol ranger at Sequoia-Kings Canyon and they were already moving out of the old "Don't wear your service weapon in the daytime when visitors can see you" mindset.

How long are we going to have to keep fighting this battle?

Nice blog, by the way. Just found out about it by way of the NPS retirees' listserv.

Ranger Gord said...

Ranger Bob,
Unfortunately, many park agencies are way behind the curve on this issue. I guess they think if they give a ranger a gun it is going to change him from Smokey Bear to Dirty Harry.

Ranger D. Harry:
"I see that you haven't paid your camping fee. You may be asking yourself 'Is this park ranger going to give me a warning or write me a ticket or is he just going to take that huge pistol and blow my head clean off?' Well, do you feel lucky, punk?"

Anonymous said...

Rangers do not require weapons. They are peace officers but they are also rangers. Rangers should be protecting the land they work on, educating patrons about nature, and ensuring that people have a pleasant time at the park. If you want to carry a weapon, you should give up those other duties. If you are a killer by law and have the right to kill another human being, I personally would not want to learn from you.

Perhaps you should be seeking a sheriff that will be at your park 24/7. That would probably be much easier to obtain. Or are you just so eager to have a gun that you people will not seek out more simple solutions?

Anonymous said...

what about a bear? (or as the article cited, a coyote?)

Baneor said...

Wait so If a ranger is armed they can not be teachers? BULL i can name 2 rangers that work for cal parks (armed) that I have learned a bunch from and one is pretty well known for his teaching after 30 years at the same park, even if you are trying not to learn you will walk away and later realize that you did in fact learn something without even knowing it. So armed ranger State/local /national etc. can still be instruments of instruction/education to say otherwise is well to be blunt very dumb

John said...

A sidearm is a tool just like a radio or flashlight: used only when necessary. Many people are uncomfortable with guns. I wouldn't be surprised to find that many of those people have little to no experience with them.

Ask any police officer and they will tell you that many people resist arrest. Ask them to do their job without a sidearm and they'd probably quit. Why should we expect rangers to have many of the same duties as police officers without means to protect themselves as well as park visitors? Silliness.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous, while your opinion is doubtless heartfelt, it is based on GLARING ignorance!

Some of the kindest, most peace minded, and nature-wise people I have ever known are myfriends who are/were California State Park Rangers, who are POST certified and armed.

There is not enough money in most agency coffers to pay for enough LEOs --OR--Naturalists, let alone to pay for two tiers of workers.

If a park is heavily visited, its just percentage odds that you are going to have a number of people who are a threat to the general public. Usually these disrespectful or predacious tyoes are not a problem, but when they do there is NO substitue for POST certified armed officers.

YMMV may vary at some out of the way park you frequent, but in a well visited park like ours (11 hour from Metro SD) they MUST be armed for the safety of all of us, AND to protect the public land and wildlife from say ARMED hunters and poachers.

disneyfan421 said...

I worked in parks for a couple years in Santa Clara County. I fully believe they need to be able to do like East Bay Regional and have a set of park police. Does the anonymous poster have any clue as to how spread out many park systems are? Lots of these park systems are spread too far and wide for a single Deputy to make much of an impact, and also, it's a cost issue. Obviously many people have a law enforcement complex, however I have met by far more cops that have never shot anyone than have. I think we should send these people that are so against arming rangers out to enforce laws without a gun and see how comfy they are waiting 45 minutes for a Deputy when they have a raging meth head in their face. Might change their tune a little. I don't see why people think that a Ranger with a gun would suddenly be unable to make sure people are having a pleasant visit to a park, and funny how actually being able to safely arrest people like armed poachers would actually serve to protect the park. It comes to the basic principle that the people who are most familiar and trained within the park should be the first line of defense. WOW- who'd a thunk?! I guess this issue touched a nerve for me!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why these people insist on safety and protection but run down the thought of a gun. Granted a verbal reprimand may have an effect on some, but there is another element out there. Some people still have the wool over there eyes and haven't seen what most law enforcemnt officers have. People are shooting officers in the middle of the city. What's to stop them in the middle of a forest with the nearest back up 30-45 mins out? If you want the sheep dog to protect the flock he damn well better have teeth.

Anonymous said...

See the following link for an interesting public oppinion survey on park ranger perception.