GPW: Self-Tempered Anarchy since 2009

Your GPW Editor-on-Occasion is Petra Fried in the City.
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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

editorial: Plain talk on LA's Park Rangers


It is about time that the Department of Recreation and Parks define what the Park Rangers should do - but more importantly it is also time for Recreation and Parks to listen to the park users who are in the parks every day.  The need for public services should drive the the focus of the Ranger Division - not politics.

What the people have said, over and over again is that they want Rangers to continue to be jacks of all trades, with the emphasis on park safety. They want them to continue fighting fires and searching for lost persons, doing the "quality of life" law enforcement, helping visitors with directions, information and other assistance, managing park resources and providing interpretive services, but as time permits.

There is healthy discussion within the Ranger Division as to what the role should be, especially considering that the Rangers do everything from A to Z in the parks. Those who know about the Ranger profession know that this has always been an ongoing debate not only in the City of LA but in the State Park Rangers, National Park Service and other agencies.

The need for public services should drive the the focus of the Ranger Division - not politics.

In general there is agreement in the ranks of the City Rangers that Rangers should remain generalists - performing public assistance, fire and rescue work, park management, interpretive and some level of law enforcement. Over the years and to date LAPD has done a sorry job of making the parks safe - they have too much on their plate to focus on the parks on a regular, consistent basis. The Office of Public Safety serves too many masters and has never taken ownership of the park problems in any meaningful way. In addition the entrenched lack of responsiveness and lack of a public service ethic in the OPS organization really gets in the way of providing the same level of service formerly provided by rangers. Both agencies seem unable to detect trends and respond appropriately, and seem to dismiss the "quality of life" problems while constantly searching for that big arrest.

This is not the first time that this issue has come up - there have been at least three prior attempts to relieve Rangers of their security duties. At one point the duties were turned over to security officers then LAPD, twice. All three failed miserably  (where are the 100 LAPD officers who were assigned directly to the parks in the late 1980s?)  Each time the bulk of law enforcement responsibility returned to the Rangers.

So what is the answer? In this time of fiscal crises, the Rangers should remain generalists, if only as a cost saving/efficiency matter. Although interpretive services are a core Ranger duty, direct visitor services and public safety need to be the priority. A volunteer/interpretive program would go a long way towards being able to expand the interpretive program at low cost.

The proposed transfer of half the field Rangers to a newly created interpretive unit is irresponsible considering that this action will result in no Rangers on duty at times, and no or limited Ranger staff available to respond to fires, medical calls, rescues, visitor assistance, etc.

....did anyone from Recreation and Parks ask the Fire Department if they were OK with no Park Rangers on duty?

This proposal seems to be poorly thought out. Since Rangers are an integral part of the delivery of public safety services in the parks, did anyone from Recreation and Parks ask the Fire Department if they were OK with no Rangers on duty? Did anyone think about the impact of this proposal on the mutual aid agreement with LAFD for Ranger-staffed fire fighting equipment? Did anyone cosult with OPS and ask if they were ready to take on the miriad of visitor assistance calls (directions, park information, battery jumps, lockouts etc) when no Rangers are on duty?

Unfortunately there is plenty of law enforcement work to go around and any reasonable person would agree that the heavy-duty stuff should be handled by LAPD or GSD - but, there is no indication that either of these agencies is willing or able to step up to the plate.

Longtime Park Employee