Editorial: Arm L.A. city park rangers? That idea should be shot down
Here’s a disaster waiting to happen: Park rangers with guns patrolling L.A. city parks. On Tuesday, a Los Angeles City Council committee will take up a motion by Councilman Joe Buscaino to arm city park rangers. This is a monumentally bad idea at any time — let alone when the city is supposedly reimagining public safety and looking for ways to lessen the number of law enforcement officers toting guns, not increase it.
There are 28 park rangers, mostly patrolling or answering calls at parks citywide including big ones such as Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon, Elysian Park, Hansen Dam, Debs Park and the Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park. They respond to calls for assistance, enforce park ordinances, educate patrons about park rules (such as keeping your dog on leash), conduct nature hikes for schoolchildren and teach interpretive education programs. They also provide firefighting services and do search and rescue.
Not all parks are as pastoral as they once were. Park rangers encounter drug dealing and gang activity, and even homicides in the parks. Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., which represents park rangers and supports the motion, says rangers have been shot at even as they retreated from a confrontation with armed parkgoers. “On a weekly basis they are taking knives or guns or some type of makeshift weapon off a person in a park,” says McClain, though he acknowledges no ranger has been injured or killed by gunfire.
Generally, in a dangerous situation, the rangers call upon the L.A. Police Department, with its force of nearly 10,000 officers, for backup. And that’s as it should be.
Although rangers attend the same police academy and have the same training as LAPD officers, it shouldn’t be their job to confront someone who shows up at the parks with a deadly weapon. A park in L.A. is not as dangerous as a national park in Kenya, where rangers have to be armed to protect themselves and endangered elephants against poachers who show up ready to kill animals and the people who protect them.
We don’t want armed rangers patrolling parks where all kinds of people, including homeless individuals, children, pets and others are passing time innocuously for the most part. No one wants a confrontation between an armed park ranger and an agitated individual — homeless or otherwise — who is refusing to obey a park rule. Imagine the ways that could go wrong.
It’s also counter to the direction in which the city has been appropriately moving. City officials are trying to figure out more creative ways to provide public safety without using armed officers, and the last thing they should do is arm a new group of officers.
This idea has come up before periodically and never been approved. This recent effort was introduced in February 2020 by Buscaino — who is running for mayor — and languished in the Arts, Parks, Health, Education, and Neighborhoods Committee until now. Some councilmembers have expressed support; others oppose it. Councilman Mike Bonin, who sits on the committee, calls this idea “ridiculous and reactionary.” He’s right, and this time the proposal should finally be permanently scotched.
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