Millinocket - Maine State Park managers are denied the tools they need to address serious visitor safety and other law enforcement problems, according to a survey of permanent and seasonal managers and rangers released today by Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Maine PEER).
According to the survey, nearly nine out of ten managers say "there is a potential for serious law enforcement problems in Maine State Parks." More than a third of managers do not feel visitor safety is "well protected" in Maine Parks.
The survey indicates that park personnel do not take enforcement action against the vast majority of violators. Yet managers report a wide range of illegal activity occurring in parks, including drunkenness, drugs, assaults, theft, stalking, child molestation and an array of campfire, campground and other park rule violations.
Despite an overwhelming sentiment (nearly nine out of ten of all managers and 100% of year-round managers) that "law enforcement is a necessary part of their work," park managers see obstruction from their own agency:
* Nearly two out of three feel unsupported or are unsure of support from the Bureau of Parks & Lands "in conducting law enforcement activities";
* No park manager has received any law enforcement training within the past five years; and
* Less than one in five think they receive "clear guidance from the Bureau about how to handle law enforcement problems." Less than half believe the Bureau even considers their views "in setting law enforcement policy."
A strong majority also report that neither local law enforcement nor officers from other state agencies are able or willing to handle law enforcement problems in parks.
The Maine PEER survey is being released just as the state Bureau of Parks has proposed rule changes than eliminate penalties for violations of park rules. "The Bureau is going in precisely the wrong direction," commented Maine PEER director Tim Caverly, the long-time manager of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. "For public relations purposes, the Bureau wants to handcuff its own rangers and pretend that there is no problem."
As one park manager wrote in the essay portion of the survey, "As park rangers we have not been able to uphold park laws because there are no repercussions to the culprits."
Last year, the Bureau issued an internal directive stripping all Parks personnel of law enforcement authority. When Maine PEER publically released that directive, the Bureau backtracked, claiming the memo sent to all managers was merely "a draft." Since that time, the Bureau has been studying what its law enforcement policy in parks should be.
Says Caverly, "For more than a decade, Park Managers and Rangers have requested that the Bureau support a law enforcement policy that adequately protects the parks and visitors, but to no avail."
The Maine PEER survey was mailed out to 28 year round and seasonal employees in March. Sixteen surveys were completed for a 57% response rate.