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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Do We Have Park Rangers or Not?

It was really difficult the night the budget was passed two weeks ago to figure out exactly what cuts to services were being restored. That's because none of us were given the proposed restoration list until we sat at council that night. Then the struggle began to try and get other  services restored not listed -- such as the Fire Department or more funding for Police over time that is necessary while we are short staffed.

The biggest mystery was what really happened to the Park Rangers who were cut to three days a week at El Dorado Regional Park and then offered up wholesale by the City Manager to be replaced with non sworn, unarmed, volunteer like people who would be armed with walkie talkies to call in when they saw a crime.

So last week in City Council I asked the City Manager to produce a document we all can share which explains exactly what was replaced and at what levels. As soon as I receive it I will pass it along.

In the meantime, I am including in this post some important information on the history of the Park Rangers in Long Beach and the stats on their calls for service. Funny, none of this was given to the city council when the decision was made to cut...I got this information from the employee association which represents the Park Rangers.

The Park Ranger Program was originally established over 30 years ago in 1969. Between 1969 - 1973, Park Rangers provided services in El Dorado East Regional Park. The primary role was to assist with naturalist programs at the Nature Center. One Park Ranger performed patrol duties in the park and could only warn park patrons about their law violations, due to not having any law enforcement authority. 

In 1974 Park Rangers were made public officers and given the authority to write citations for specific violations. As public officers, Park Rangers were only allowed to make citizen arrests. Once Park Rangers began to issue citations, several Park Rangers were subjected to physical attacks by violators. Without any equipment to protect Park Rangers, they were sent to the police academy to train as park law enforcement officers and were equipped with handcuffs and wooden batons for self protection. 

As park usage increased between 1975 - 1979, so did the problems. Crimes involving guns, knives, drug dealing and gang related crimes were becoming a weekly occurrence. Soon, El Dorado East Regional Park was not a place for families to come and have a picnic. Gangs and drug dealers were claiming the park as their turf. Attendance started to decline, as families realized the park was not a safe place. In 1979, Park Rangers were authorized to carry handguns as a defensive tool for the safety of the Park Rangers. Park Rangers were given peace officer authority and instructed to enforce all laws to make the park a safe place for park patrons. 

From 1980 - 1983, Park Rangers with their new enforcement authority and defensive weapons confronted any and all problems that arose. With constant enforcement against the gangs, drug dealers and violent crimes, the Park Rangers slowly eradicated the problems, once again making the park safe for families to enjoy. With the park safe, the role of the Park Ranger was changing from a strict law enforcement officer to a public relations officer with law enforcement authority. 

In 1987, the citywide Park Ranger patrols were initiated as a pilot program, in response to a recommendation by the Mayor and City Council to improve the level of safety in the city parks. The citywide Park Ranger patrols have changed several times over the years. Prior to drastic cuts to the Park Ranger program in December of 2008, and the subsequent termination of the Citywide park patrols, Park Ranger deployment consisted of patrols of all park properties citywide from 2:00 PM to 12:00 Midnight, seven days per week, and dedicated El Dorado Park patrols (servicing El Dorado East Regional Park, El Dorado West Community Park, Heartwell Park, and Recreation Park) from 6:30 AM to 8:30 PM, seven days per week.

Stats on Calls for Service to Park Rangers --take note of the "gang contacts" --

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