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.