A campaign to reduce crime in Griffith Park and other recreational areas in Los Angeles cleared its first hurdle Tuesday when a City Council committee approved a proposal to almost double the park ranger staff and allow the new rangers to carry guns.
The council's Recreation, Library and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 2-1 in favor of the motion, which has been supported by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates and Jim Hadaway, general manager of the city's recreation and parks department.
The proposal, which would cost about $500,000 a year, will be sent to the council's Finance Committee, which will study the measure and make a recommendation to the City Council.
If the plan is approved by the council, the city's park ranger staff would be increased from 22 to 42. The added rangers would receive regular police training and would be given peace officer status. The rangers who now patrol the city's 350 parks have authority only to issue parking tickets.
Supporters of giving the rangers new powers have cited a 25% increase over the last year in crimes such as robbery, automobile burglary, vandalism and theft of city property in Griffith Park.
City Council members Gilbert Lindsay and Peggy Stevenson voted in favor of the plan. Joel Wachs voted against it, saying he opposes the arming of park rangers.
"I have no problem with allocating the money to improve security in the parks, but I'm not in favor of arming people who do not have police experience," Wachs said.
Wachs said he would prefer that a special unit of police officers be created to patrol city parks.
The campaign to increase park security was begun about two years ago when a small group of residents living near Griffith Park complained about crime to police and city officials.