WASHINGTON, D.C.—Threats, harassment and attacks against National Park Service rangers and U.S. Park Police officers reached a new record in 2004, according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Chronically understaffed NPS law enforcement is facing growing homeland security needs and increasingly violent situations with static resources and little agency support.
National Park Service commissioned law enforcement officers were victims of assaults 111 times in 2004, nearly a third of which resulted in injury. This figure tops the 2003 total of 106 assaults and the 2002 total of 98.
Law enforcement work in the National Park Service is the most dangerous in federal service. National Park Service officers are 12 times more likely to be killed or injured as a result of an assault than FBI agents. Overall, NPS law enforcement has a morbidity rate triple that of the next worst federal agency.
Across the country, nearly half of all the incidents (54) took place in areas under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Park Police on the National Mall, the Statute of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Camp David perimeter, dozens of D.C. area parks and five parkways. Yellowstone National Park experienced the most number of incidents (16) in 2004 of any single park.
“The National Park Service has an astoundingly poor safety record for its officers,” stated Randall Kendrick, Executive Director for the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, noting that NPS allows people without a law enforcement background to manage the law enforcement function in most parks. “If anything, these assaults against park rangers are undercounted. If there is not a death or injury, pressures within a national park can cause the incident to be reported as being much more minor than it is in reality and it is not unheard of for an assault to go unreported altogether.”
The Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General has repeatedly called for more officers on duty in the NPS but these recommendations have yet to be heeded. Due to continuing budget cuts, the outlook for more officers in the upcoming fiscal year is even bleaker.
“The U.S. Park Police today has fewer officers than it did before September 11, 2001,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is representing former 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 national icons, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. “On top of an expanded homeland security role, the day-to-day demands of police work on the U.S. Park Police continue to grow but its resources have not kept pace.”
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.