Washington, DC -- The United States Park Police is suffering an unprecedented disruption of its leadership at a critical time when its strategic plan, budget and senior staffing are all in flux, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As Chief Teresa Chambers is about to enter her fourteenth week on administrative leave and with Acting Chief Ben Holmes announcing his retirement, the nation's oldest federal uniformed police force faces an indeterminate period without fixed leadership.
For one Park Police Officer, the situation has caused him to resign. Officer Bleu Lawless, one of the few Park Police Officers who is also an attorney, notified his chain-of-command of his decision to leave:
"I would like to emphasize that my experience with the U.S. Park Police has been nothing but positive. This is, by far, the best job I have ever had…However, when Chief Chambers was suspended I began to rethink my career options…The recent unfair treatment of Chief Chambers creates enough doubt in my mind about my future as a U.S. Park Police Officer to justify a career change."
In addition to growing uneasiness in the ranks, this leadership vacuum is occurring at a time when the U.S. Park Police (USPP) can least afford it --
- Key decisions about security at the Statue of Liberty and the National Mall are occurring without the Park Police, the force responsible for protection of both the public and the monuments, having a decision-making role;
- The USPP is in the middle of a restructuring and strategic planning process; and
- Without an advocate, the USPP proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year fell far short of identified needs.
"If the political appointees at the National Park Service had actually intended to destroy U.S. Park Police morale and cohesion, they could not have done a better job," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the severe shortage of personnel is forcing the U.S. Park Police to daily make decisions amounting to law enforcement triage, as it balances its array of traditional duties with new anti-terrorism responsibilities. "Ironically, Teresa Chambers was hired after a nationwide search to upgrade and modernize the United States Park Police but she is being prevented from accomplishing that mission."
Eight weeks into its review of Chief Chambers' response, the Department of Interior, the parent agency for the National Park Service, still has no timeline for making a decision about allegations lodged by Deputy Director Donald Murphy. In announcing the retirement of Acting Chief Holmes the National Park Service indicated that it would name another acting chief rather than bring Chief Chambers off administrative leave and back to work pending resolution of this matter but no announcement has been made.