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Friday, September 27, 2013

Challenges facing Park Rangers, City parks start with the CAO

This past Monday, the City's Arts Parks Health Aging & River Committee had an item (cf# 12-0899-S1) on their agenda asking the Department of Recreation and Parks for an update on the challenges facing the Park Ranger Division.

Tom LaBonge authored the vague-sounding motion and Felipe Fuentes - a new councilman with a new Park Ranger Station in Hansen Dam Recreation Area and zero Park Rangers to operate it - seconded the motion.

The challenges facing the health of our Park Ranger Division have directly impacted the health of our large Regional Parks in Los Angeles.  Read all about why this is the case in the PUBLIC COMMENT below.

Hansen Dam Ranger Station - Nobody Home
So what exactly are those challenges? There are a number of us parks advocates out there who know from years of experience and advocacy that these challenges facing the survival of the Park Ranger Division are substantial. Ever hopeful, this particular advocate was looking for some real discussion of this important parks issue during the committee meeting on Monday.

Alas, it was not to be. After what amounted to a haphazard non-report by Recreation and Parks' AGM Kevin Regan (who is, himself, one of the very challenges in question), the motion was amended to have this report presented in 60 days. 

AGM Regan could easily have produced a report at Monday's meeting on the challenges facing the Park Ranger Division. Easily. After all, he's put himself fully in command of the POST-certified division. That said, one suspects that if any give in hiring new Rangers was likely by the Parks Department-hating CAO, Miguel Santana, it would have happened yesterday since they could hire to fill funded positions that are currently unfilled due to attrition. But the entire hearing on this item was just giving the pretense about doing something concrete to address the serious issues affecting the Park Ranger Division, so Santana must be saying "no".

Not surprising. CAO Santana simply hates the Department of Recreation and Parks. He actually went out of his way to taunt them during their budget hearing, which is utterly shocking behavior for an alleged professional.

Taunting Recreation and Parks as he facilitates the theft of $70 million from the department and balances his budget on the backs of Los Angeles' children goes well beyond amoral. Why is this guy still working as CAO?

OK, so add CAO Miguel Santana to the substantial list of challenges facing the Park Ranger Division. And facing the children of Los Angeles.

As for myself, I took a different approach to this hearing. Rather than adding to the number of simple public comments I've made on the Park Ranger Division, I decided to respond to the motion and write that report from what I know firsthand. And, oddly enough, a number of questions Kevin Regan was asked by the committee and didn't necessarily respond to are factually addressed in my public comment.  Fascinating, that. 

So here for your reading enjoyment is an update on the challenges currently facing the Park Ranger Division. Minus CAO Miguel Santana. I'll be adding him in to my next draft.

Listen to the audio of Monday's committee hearing here (item 2).


A. Who are the City of Los Angeles Park Rangers?

The best way to understand who the Park Rangers are is probably by reading the Draft Park Ranger Division 5-Year Strategic Plan (2009).

The City of Los Angeles Park Rangers are a California POST-certified agency. Park Rangers are highly trained professionals whose job duties evolved directly from the day-to-day needs in our Los Angeles parks. No other agency can or does respond to these needs like Park Rangers.

Currently, Park Rangers are the in-the-field managers of our Regional Parks (largest City parks), including Griffith Park, Hansen Dam, Elysian Park, Harbor Regional Park, Sepulveda Basin, Ascot Hills, Augustus Hawkins, Debs Park, O’ Melveny Park, Verdugo Hills park, Angel’s Gate, and others. When allowed to respond, Park Rangers typically answer 26,000* calls for service in parks annually (*2007, 2008).

Park Rangers also play a critical and under-appreciated role in the Mass Care portion (Recreation and Park’s responsibility) of the City’s Emergency Plan.

Vital park-specific services provided by Park Rangers -

Major job duties:
1. Security and Law Enforcement
2. Firefighting
3. Search and Rescue
4. Community Policing
5. Wildlife Management
6. Education and Interpretive
Park Rangers patrol Recreation and Park facilities by vehicle, foot, horseback and bicycle to prevent unauthorized entry, vandalism, theft or other crimes.

Park Rangers provide emergency services, shelter and welfare to persons in emergency conditions.

Park Rangers respond to accidents and administer First Aid and/or Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) to victims, some may have infectious diseases.

Park Rangers carry out search and rescue operations for people who are lost.

Park Rangers manage park resources to address wildlife issues, special events, repairs and maintenance, fire safety, patron utilization.

Park Rangers present both professional and impromptu educational and interpretive programming to the public to enhance the enjoyment of the community.

B. What are the current challenges facing the Park Ranger Division?


A reasonable full deployment of Park Rangers for the Los Angeles Regional Parks we currently have looks essentially like this:
1 Chief Park Ranger
3 Sr. Lead Rangers
28 field Rangers
(Griffith Park Ranger Station) 12-16 full-time Rangers
(Hansen Dam Ranger Station) 8-12 full-time Rangers
Part-time Park Patrol officers and trained volunteers and docents can cover some of duties of these positions but are in no way replacements for full-time Park Rangers.

Currently, the sum total of Peace Officer Park Rangers and grandfathered Non-Peace Officer Park Rangers in the field is less than 18, placing the Division and parks services and safety at a very critical tipping point.

Why are we at this point?

During the past decade, the City has allowed non-negotiable hiring freezes, lay-off threats, ersatz “park patrol” entities, managerial neglect and misuse, and attrition to literally decimate the Park Ranger Division.

Peace Officer status is vital to the safe, effective ability of a Park Ranger to efficiently manage their parks in the City of Los Angeles. The current situation is this: a non-POST certified civilian Assistant General Manager acts as the Chief Ranger through a puppet peace officer (typically a Captain) loaned from a different agency. The loaned officer often has little to no understanding of the full scope of the Park Ranger job and most have shown no desire or received no motivation to learn the job.

The linear Command-and-Control structure that is fundamental to POST agencies was removed by the AGM in 2009. When there was a Chief Park Ranger previously, they were answerable to an AGM rather than to a GM.

The current type of structure and leadership are fairly unheard of for a California POST agency. Undeniably, it is not healthy, safe or appropriate.

Additionally, more than a century (100+ years) of invaluable institutional Ranger knowledge was lost during ERIP due in large part to the alleged hostile work environment created by the AGM in question.

Morale has understandably been low.

Non-equal pay (lower) within the City is a factor negatively impacting hiring. 

The college degree requirement impacts hiring but expertise is necessary for this complex position.

Most Peace Officer Park Ranger agencies in California are armed. The current lack of being armed negatively impacts hiring. At face value, this should not be an issue since it is common in California. Los Angles politics remain the main reason for the continuation of this negative hiring impact, sadly.

Many of these challenges have been and remain completely unnecessary, specifically where the management of the Division is concerned. The management issue can quickly be corrected by hiring or naming a truly qualified Chief Park Ranger.

C. How do these challenges affect our parks and parks patrons?

During 2004-2008, hundreds of concerned parks patrons and almost 20 neighborhood councils representing more than 800,000 Angelenos passed resolutions or community impact statements that not only supported keeping the Park Rangers in our parks as full peace officers, but with increased staffing to include full coverage of each regional park with Senior Lead Rangers and a Chief Park Ranger. (List is attached)

The situation now with few Rangers and no proper Chief Ranger is that no one is home in these parks.

When no one is home... Parks users are not safe. Park inhabitants are not safe. Park resources are not safe. When no one is home, our fragile City resources are damaged and abused, costing even more funds to restore. Or they are damaged beyond restoration altogether.

LAPD is not a replacement for Park Rangers.

OPS was not a replacement for Park Rangers, and neither is LAPD. Except for special details, LAPD simply answers radio calls. Most typical park calls are prioritized by LAPD as lower than Code 2 and are placed in the non-emergency call queue (1-877-ASK-LAPD phone line). I have personally been on hold on this line for more than 30 minutes more than once before an operator addressed my call for service.

If the call is at a location without a street address such as we have in our Regionals Parks (ex: “Water Crossing” at Hansen Dam), the vast majority of LAPD patrol officers and dispatchers don’t know the location.

LAFD is not a replacement for Park Rangers.

Witness the insane amount of expensive helicopter rescues in Griffith Park by LAFD in the past few years. Rangers contact, educate and inform the public about safe use of the parks before it gets to this point. Park Rangers intimately know their parks. Including locations without addresses.

Peace Officer Park Rangers in the field enforce:

· Alcohol laws
· Trespass laws
· Fire code violations (such as smoking in the brush or attempted arson)
· Handicapped parking violations
· Narcotics violations
· Animal welfare/abuse laws
· Vandalism or graffiti
· Vehicle code violations

…and other important quality of life laws and ordinances that LAPD will not bother with.

Citing the smaller offenses in parks is proven to prevent escalation of criminality.

Both LAPD and LAFD work most effectively and efficiently in and around our parks as needed when they work with a strong Park Ranger Division.

Ranger role goes largely unrecognized in Emergency Preparedness.

Park Rangers play a critical role in the Mass Care portion (RAP’s responsibility) of the City’s Emergency Plan. The impact of the “OPS Consolidation” that removed 56 peace officer positions from the Dept. of Recreation and Parks (along with millions of dollars in vital equipment and dispatch positions) on RAP’s specific role in the City Of Los Angeles’s emergency plan has gone unrecognized, with little acknowledgement, and without any real analysis. Due diligence requires that this be addressed.