WASHINGTON, DC--Threats, harassment and attacks against National Park Service rangers and U.S. Park Police officers reached a record high in 2003, according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, an already chronically understaffed NPS law enforcement is increasingly unable to protect visitors, national icons and wildlife, according to representatives of both rangers and U.S. Park Police officers.
National Park Service commissioned law enforcement officers were victims of assaults 106 times in 2003; more than one-quarter of which resulted in injury. This figure tops the 2002 total of 98 assaults but parallels the 2001 previous high of 104 violent incidents. The National Park Service is the only land management agency that refuses to track violence directed against its biologists, naturalists and non-commissioned rangers, according to PEER which maintains the country's only database documenting violence against federal resource protection employees.
Nationally, two parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, experienced a disproportionate number of incidents (35). The District of Columbia was next with 15 incidents, with 3 additional assaults in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. Rangers in California had a small increase in violence, with 12 incidents. Other states, including Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania, also registered multiple attacks.
"Law enforcement officers in the National Park Service are 12 times more likely to be killed or injured as a result of an assault than FBI agents – a rate triple that of the next worst federal agency," stated Randall Kendrick, Executive Director for the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. "The Park Service has failed to provide law enforcement personnel to prevent further violence; despite its own projections that an additional 700 rangers are required, the number of rangers is down 9 percent." Aggravating this growing shortfall are not only new Homeland Security duties but also significant diversions of resources ordered by its parent Interior Department, which has--
- Added millions of dollars to the training cycle for new rangers while eliminating specialized ranger courses;
- Reassigned scores of Park Service law enforcement personnel to operate a 24-hour "Watch Office" for the Department of Interior that has no dispatch responsibility and whose sole function is to keep Interior brass informed; and
- Asked for only minor budgetary increases that are well short of its own internal estimates of need.
"Park police and rangers are being asked to do more for less by political appointees who appear tone deaf to the reality of the challenges," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is representing U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers who is fighting her termination for speaking out against the dangers posed by understaffing to the visiting public and to the national icons, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. "A large part of the problem is that, in the Park Service, the law enforcement professionals are excluded from budget preparation and needs assessments."