Alarmed by recent attacks on lifeguards at a public swimming pool in Watts, Los Angeles County supervisors Tuesday moved to bolster security in the parks by making it more attractive for volunteers to become reserve park police officers.
Budget cutbacks and mounting violence have forced the county to rely heavily on reserves, a trend that is expected to continue, said Rodney E. Cooper, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The county has 69 sworn officers on its park police force and 54 reserve officers. The reserves, who are qualified as peace officers and carry guns, donate 20 hours a week to the county.
To attract volunteers to the park police force, the board, without discussion, authorized the parks department to purchase disability income insurance for the reserve officers. In the past, injured reserve officers received no benefits. Under the new policy, injured reservists will receive a weekly disability payment of $250 for up to two years.
The insurance will cost the county only $1,100 annually for all reservists, a token amount that was not previously allocated because parks officials did not want to single out reserve officers from among the more than 5,000 park volunteers, said Park Police Chief Paul Zrofsky. None of the others are covered by disability insurance.
But increasing violence in the county's 129 parks, including the recent attacks on lifeguards at Will Rogers Park, has forced a new urgency to increase the number of reserve officers, Cooper said.
Last month, six lifeguards were injured in gang-related attacks at the public pool. After there were numerous complaints about new fees imposed on pool users this summer, Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke raised more than $65,000 in corporate and private donations to eliminate the fees in her district.