COMMENTARY | PEER’s Response to Interior’s Law Enforcement Report

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PEER’s Response to Interior’s Law Enforcement Report

The Interior Department has recently released a long-awaited report from its Law Enforcement Task Force. PEER Litigation and Policy Attorney Colleen Teubner, representing PEER, and PEER Board Member Edward Patrovsky attended one of the Task Force’s listening sessions in July 2022.

The report highlighted the declining staffing levels within the Interior Department’s agencies, especially the National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). PEER’s presentation at the listening session emphasized the significant adverse impacts on public safety and resource protection these staffing shortages cause. This includes delayed response to incidents, loss of deterrence against undesired and criminal activities on public lands, lack of available backup to officers, and the loss of agency presence on public lands.

The report also focuses on law enforcement workforce welfare. One finding was that a significant number of these employees have reported that their physical and/or mental health has declined during their careers. Many referenced the cultural stigma, which often discourages law enforcement officers from requesting help from employee assistance programs. Some respondents to a Task Force survey did not feel that their contact with the Interior Department’s Employee Assistance Program was helpful or relevant to the stresses of law enforcement work.

Edward Patrovsky, a retired Law Enforcement Ranger with more than 16 years of experience with BLM, expressed disappointment with several aspects of the report. “This report was spearheaded by two incidents of alleged serious misconduct by the U.S. Park Police, but the issue of officer misconduct is barely mentioned in the report,” stated Patrovsky. Also barely mentioned is the 2002 report by the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), “A Disquieting State of Disorder,” which made several recommendations that have not been implemented. These include a centralized Department-wide Internal Affairs unit to address officer misconduct. This was deemed necessary to provide consistency in handling allegations of officer misconduct and to deter agency interference in such investigations, states Patrovsky. A recent example of this need was the controversial firing of former BLM Director of Law Enforcement Eric Kriley after he complained of alleged internal affairs interference by a senior member of BLM’s Management.

Another topic barely mentioned in this report is the need to modernize agency law enforcement organizational structures. Many Interior agencies still have law enforcement officers who are supervised by managers who are not law enforcement officers and who often lack the necessary knowledge of the law enforcement function. A 2021 announcement by Interior Secretary Bernhardt that all of BLM’s law enforcement rangers would henceforth be supervised by other law enforcement personnel has not been implemented. Following the Task Force report, BLM announced a new law enforcement reorganization, which continues the “Hybrid” supervision of rangers, where most rangers are still supervised by non-law enforcement managers, but for whom BLM’s national law enforcement office has oversight with professional standards. According to Patrovsky, this split supervision continues to cause confusion and organizational dysfunction.

Ed Patrovsky is a PEER Board Member as well as a former law enforcement ranger with National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Colleen TeubnerColleen Teubner is a Litigation and Policy Attorney at PEER and a lover of backpacking, books, and board games.

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