To curb vandalism and other crime problems at seven city parks, Lancaster officials are considering a plan to hire uniformed, unarmed rangers to patrol recreation areas during peak activity times.
City Manager Jim Gilley will urge the City Council today to allocate $40,000 to launch a park ranger program. Under his proposal, rangers would serve as "eyes and ears" for the Sheriff's Department, contacting deputies by radio when they see illegal activity.
Councilman George Runner said Monday that he favors the idea, although he wants to know more about the number of new employees the city would hire and other expenses involved in the program.
"I'm always cautious when it comes to adding new costs to the city," he said. "If we are ensuring the public safety and doing it in an economical way, I'm going to be supportive."
In a written report, Gilley said $40,000 would cover start-up costs for the park ranger program between now and June 30. He said it will need another $50,000 during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Having unarmed rangers patrol the parks would be less expensive than paying for more sheriff's deputies to do the work, city officials said.
Sheriff's Lt. Ron Shreves said that during 1994, deputies investigated 110 reports of vandalism and responded to more than a dozen other crimes, including thefts, assaults and burglaries, at Lancaster city parks.
Lyle Norton, the city's director of parks, recreation and arts, said in a report that many more park vandalism incidents go unreported. Norton said his staff recorded more than 100 vandalism incidents at city parks and buildings just between Sept. 1, 1994, and Jan. 12, 1995, requiring city crews to spend more than 250 hours on paint removal and repairs.
Under the new proposal, city rangers, working in pairs, would ride from park to park in a marked vehicle between 5 and 11 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.
The rangers would walk through each park, observing park activities and checking recreation buildings. They would talk to any visitor caught breaking a park rule, but would contact sheriff's deputies if they witnessed any illegal activity.
"Their presence is intended to convey a sense of security, not law enforcement," the city's written park ranger proposal states.
Mayor Frank Roberts said Monday that he likes the ranger plan because it would help reduce crime and make families feel safer at local parks. "You can't turn down that type of proposal," he said.
Roberts said he also plans to suggest that city rangers extend their patrols to the 1,700-acre Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, even though it is a state park just west of the city.
The mayor said he was uncertain how this would affect the scheduling and budget for the ranger program. But Roberts said the poppy park, which is open for only about two months each spring, might be open longer if the city assisted in protecting the sensitive wildflower fields.