Washington, DC — The U.S. Park Police enters the prime D.C. tourist season with record high levels of assaults on its officers, the lowest force levels in nearly twenty years and plummeting morale, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As discontent with Park Police leadership deepens, the legal bid for the return of Chief Teresa Chambers reaches federal court for the first time.
After a series of highly publicized crimes on the National Mall last summer, concern about declining force levels for the U.S. Park Police sharpened. Nonetheless, at the end of February 2007, the number of sworn officers has dropped to 587. The current force level is less than the 601 officers on duty last summer, well under the 625 officers at the end of 2005 and below the force levels of any year since 1988.
Coincident with low staffing levels, attacks against U.S. Park Police officers reached an all-time high in 2006, according to documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act. Last year, the U.S. Park Police reported 57 assaults on its officers, in just the D.C. area alone, of which 15 resulted in injury to the officer.
“Low force levels lead to more assaults because the U.S. Park Police must rely on single officers to respond to incidents where other police forces use multiple officers to deter altercations,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to a 2007 survey of Park Police officers in which an overwhelming percentage did not feel that “the current staffing levels at your work site are safe.” “Park Police staffing levels are much lower now than when Chief Teresa Chambers identified shortfalls back in 2003.”
In the coming months, the situation for the U.S. Park Police will likely worsen:
- Officer staffing will continue to drop through the summer. Flat budgets have led to cancellation of training classes so that there are no new recruits to replace retirees or other departures;
- The Chief of the U.S. Park Police has been dropped from the inner circle of top managers within the National Park Service, called the National Leadership Council. This functional demotion lessens the ability of the Park Police to command resources or adjust duties to reduce strain; and
- In an internal survey earlier this year, U.S. Park Police officers cast an almost unanimous vote of no confidence in the Chief and his “Command Staff.”
At the same time, the legal challenge by Teresa Chambers to reclaim her job as Chief of the U.S. Park Police finally entered federal court with the filing of an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Ms. Chambers is also suing in federal district court to force the release of glowing personnel evaluations that top Park Service officials are either withholding or have destroyed.
The U.S. Park Police is responsible for all D.C. monuments, parks and parkways, the Statue of Liberty, the perimeters of Golden Gate Bridge and Camp David, among other duties. Established by President George Washington, it is the oldest uniformed federal force. Teresa Chambers, the first female chief, was selected by the Bush administration after a nationwide search and was fired in 2004 for confirming staff shortages during an interview with The Washington Post.
“The current state of affairs is a lose-lose situation: in order to protect tourists flocking to visit the sights of our nation’s capital this spring and summer, the Park Police must strip needed officers off our parkways and metro parks—and vice versa,” Ruch concluded. “The U.S. Park Police desperately needs leadership willing to be honest with both the public and its own employees.”