Park Police Face Growing Challenges with Fewer Officers
Washington, DC — As Teresa Chambers awaits the outcome of her case for reinstatement, the National Park Service is staging a four-hour ceremony for the formal investiture of her former deputy as the next Chief of the U.S. Park Police, according to invitations posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As he is sworn in, Dwight Pettiford inherits an organization that is smaller than it was on September 11, 2001 but with much greater responsibilities than ever before.
In December 2003, Chief Chambers was suspended for confirming to the Washington Post that protection of national monuments aggravated shortages of officers available to patrol parks and parkways. Since that time, there are even fewer sworn U.S. Park Police officers yet demands on those officers have grown:
- The opening of the World War II Memorial and the re-opening of the Statute of Liberty have significantly increased monument security responsibilities;
- The number of accidents, injuries and drunk driving arrests on the five major D.C. area parkways has steadily grown. Low staffing levels lengthen response time and increase the danger for officers who respond to roadside emergencies without backup; and
- Homeland Security alerts and special events, such as the Ronald Reagan funeral, cause exceptional spikes of overtime demands on an overworked officer cadre.
In an April 2000 Report to Congress, the National Park Service estimated that it needed 806 officers for the United States Park Police Force. At the time of that report there were approximately 638 sworn officers. The latest figures show only 621 officers.
“Unlike the miracle of loaves and fishes, the U.S. Park Police cannot keep up with expanding demands with contracting resources,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Park Service leadership is doing a disservice to the public, policymakers and to U.S. Park Police officers by insisting that more resources are not needed.”
By way of comparison, the U.S. Capitol Police, which is responsible for the 11 square block area surrounding the Capitol, has 1278 sworn officers, more than double the force of the U.S. Park Police, which has foot, mounted, marine and air patrols responsible for the National Mall, the Statute of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge area, the Camp David perimeter, dozens of D.C. area parks and five parkways.
Chief Pettiford’s ceremony is scheduled to last from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 3rd in historic Ford’s Theatre. All U.S. Park Police personnel are invited to attend; however, on-duty personnel must have prior supervisory approval.