Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino wants to change city rules to allow park rangers to carry guns, arguing that it would better protect both rangers and parkgoers.
In a proposal introduced Tuesday, Buscaino argued that park rangers routinely patrol “remote and desolate areas” and should have access to “all law enforcement tools and equipment” to keep people safe.
“Park rangers are sworn police officers. They already receive firearm training from LAPD. And they’re being asked to do a lot more,” Buscaino said in an interview. “This is just giving added protection to those rangers who are the front lines of public safety in our parks.”
Chief Park Ranger Joe Losorelli called it “way overdue.” If a gunman was at the Greek Theatre, Losorelli said, “the public would want us to go in and assess that threat — but we wouldn’t be able to.”
The idea alarmed progressive activists who advocate for homeless people camping out in city parks. At Echo Park Lake, activists with the Services Not Sweeps coalition have turned out to protest enforcement efforts, arguing that people should be able to stay in the parks in the face of a shelter shortage.
Arielle Sallai, an activist with Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles, called the proposal “extremely dangerous” and “a reflection of overblown fears that people have about unhoused people in public spaces.”
“It terrifies me,” Sallai said of the prospect of arming park rangers. “Unhoused folks are the ones who are unsafe here.”
Pete White, executive director of the skid row advocacy group Los Angeles Community Action Network, said he was also worried. “More weapons in the hands of humans means more uses of force — not less,” White said of the proposal.
In reaction to such concerns, Buscaino argued that arming the rangers would better protect everyone who uses the parks, including homeless people who have faced “a drastic increase in victimization.”
The Department of Recreation and Parks has thrown its support behind the proposal. The agency has 22 sworn park rangers and is planning to expand to 50 rangers — a massive expansion reflecting longtime needs to protect its parks that the city was unable to address during a hiring freeze, its spokeswoman Rose Watson said.
L.A. park rangers have pushed to be able to carry guns in the past: More than two decades ago, rangers complained that they had found themselves helpless as they faced gang members toting guns in city parks.
“Over the years they’ve had rangers accosted. They’ve had rangers shot at,” said Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., which now represents the park rangers. “Some left for other agencies.”
At the time, then-Councilman Rudy Svorinich advocated to arm the rangers, telling The Times that the rangers were “dealing with more nefarious individuals than Yogi Bear.”
But the idea got pushback from top officials at the Los Angeles Police Department, who argued that it was better for rangers to rely on police officers than to arm themselves.
The same idea arose much more recently in San Jose, which ultimately decided not to arm its park rangers, instead opting to provide more “police support” during homeless encampment cleanups and patrols. In L.A., chief park ranger Losorelli argued that park rangers shouldn’t have to rely on the LAPD for armed backup.
“It makes no sense to me to have a law enforcement officer in the park” — a ranger — “and then say, ‘We have to go call LAPD because we don’t have guns,’” Losorelli said. “We’re the first responders in the park.”
Matt Cerkel, president of the Park Rangers Assn. of California, rattled off a number of agencies that arm park rangers, including those that patrol the state parks, but said the practice tends to be less common in smaller agencies.
The proposal heads to a council committee focused on parks for further review. Councilman David Ryu, who heads that committee, said Tuesday that he opposes arming rangers because “we need fewer guns in our parks, not more.”
“I’m all for increased safety in our parks, but I don’t think this is the right way to get there,” Ryu said in a statement. “I’m open to hearing more from the department, but I would need a very good reason to even consider this.”