Augusta,ME -- The Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) has reversed an earlier effort to remove law enforcement authority from park staff and is now scheduling law enforcement training for park rangers and managers. Beginning in September, park personnel are scheduled to receive 100 hours of training in areas of search and seizure, defensive tactics, summons and case preparation, as well as crowd conflict and civil disorder. The last time park staff received this level of training was in 1990.
According to state law, the BPL Director has the discretionary authority to designate park staff with law enforcement powers. Early in 1999 BPL director Tom Morrison issued a memo revoking all law enforcement designations for park personal, effective May 1, 1999. Park managers overwhelmingly opposed this action. In 2000 PEER released a survey revealing that park staff felt they were denied the tools to address serious visitor safety and other law enforcement problems.
This winter, without the knowledge of park field staff, Mr. Morrison made another attempt to handcuff employees. BPL's sponsorship of L.D. 1922 would have statutorily removed the director's ability to authorize parks enforcement personal with arrest powers. However the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee retained the language in the bill, which allows park staff to be designated with arrest powers.
"For a Bureau director to voluntarily restrict his authority only demonstrates that he is not interested in protecting visitor safety or the natural resources of our state park system, " said Maine PEER Director Tim Caverly. "It is not clear what Mr. Morrison's plans are for park staff who were previously designated with arrest powers. Thanks to the work of the members of the ACF Committee and the efforts of public employees, this is a tremendous victory for park employees and PEER."
"After three years of discussion and study, it is unfortunate that the Bureau of Parks and Lands will not provide training in time for this summer season. However, the State is now moving in the right direction and we need to remain vigilant to see that training does not fall by the wayside." continued Caverly. "We also feel that park rangers should be given arrest authority and that BPL administrators should not discouraged or prevent park employees from conducting common sense law enforcement work." PEER will monitor this situation closely.