In response to the rising crime in our parks and the City of Los Angeles’ continued refusal to properly equip its park rangers to protect themselves and the public in increasingly dangerous conditions, LAAPOA is recommending that our park ranger members no longer perform law enforcement duties, instead routing all calls for law enforcement services in City parks to LAPD.
“For far too long, the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks has resisted calls to provide our unarmed park rangers with the protection they need against the growing dangers of the job,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain says. “As the conditions in City parks continue to deteriorate, our members are being placed in daily peril. L.A. park rangers are sworn peace officers and highly trained first responders who are committed to protecting and serving their communities. But sending them out into the field unarmed, denying them the equipment that is granted to their fellow law enforcement officers to defend themselves and the public, is putting a target on their backs.”
According to an October 11 memo sent by Chief Park Ranger Joe Losorelli to Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Jimmy Kim, between January 2021 and October 2022 there were a total of 21 assaults on police officers and park rangers in the City’s park system. Rangers requested 22 backup or assistance calls from other rangers and 66 from LAPD due to gun, knife or shooting incidents in the parks. Rangers alone responded to 50 knife calls, 27 miscellaneous weapon calls, 125 gun calls and 39 shooting calls. Rangers and LAPD recovered 195 guns (including handguns, assault weapons and rifles) and 456 other weapons in the park system.
Data collected by the LAPD’s Crime Analysis Detail show that during the same 2021–2022 time period, there were 474 felony aggravated assaults, 504 arson fires, 305 burglary thefts from motor vehicles, 10 kidnappings, 138 rapes or sexual assaults, 175 robberies and 12 homicides reported in City parks.
In addition to these grim statistics, we only have to look to the news to see evidence of the lack of safety in L.A.’s parks. After two people were slain and at least five others injured in a mass shooting at San Pedro’s Peck Park this past summer, incensed community members voiced their concerns about park safety and called for more law enforcement presence to safeguard against violence. Even City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who has opposed arming park rangers, clearly saw the need for increased park safety earlier this year when he chose to employ armed private security guards to protect his own district office from unsafe conditions in adjacent Westchester Park, infuriating local residents who have long been asking for improved security at the park’s public facilities.
In response to these and other incidents, LAAPOA and other supporters of public safety have repeatedly advocated for the obvious, commonsense solution of arming park rangers, who are already patrolling on site, have firsthand knowledge of park geography and conditions, and have the highest education and training requirements of any law enforcement agency in the city. In addition to receiving the same training as LAPD — including firearms training — park rangers must have a four-year college degree or four years of law enforcement experience, graduate from the Los Angeles Police Academy, have California Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification and receive directed mental health awareness training, as well as being trained wildland firefighters. Including park rangers under the category of peace officers, California Penal Code Section 830.31 provides Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Jimmy Kim with the authority to authorize equipping his agency’s rangers with firearms on duty, but despite the overwhelming evidence, he refuses to act.
Properly equipping park rangers for the dangers they face is not only the best way to increase the security of parkgoers and surrounding communities, but also crucial for keeping these dedicated peace officers safe as they patrol the often desolate and remote areas of our city parks, day and night. The risk to park rangers was starkly illustrated by an incident in Elysian Park on October 1, 2020, captured on camera by park patrons, after two park rangers and two security officers stopped two people who had open containers of alcohol. The male suspect brandished a gun at the rangers, who were forced to flee for their lives as shots were fired.
“How many close calls will our park rangers be forced to endure, and how long before a dangerous incident results in unspeakable tragedy? Will it take the killing of a ranger before the Department of Recreation and Parks is willing to make this desperately needed change?” McClain asks. “It is long past time to take action. Attacks on peace officers are at record highs nationwide, and our parks are no refuge from the rising crime plaguing our city. The current situation is untenable. For the safety of our park ranger members, LAAPOA is left with no choice but to advise them not to perform the duties of law enforcement as long as they are denied the full range of tools needed for law enforcement. These brave and devoted professionals put their lives on the line to protect our city, but the city needs to protect them, too. They work hard every day to serve their communities, and they deserve to go home safely to their families when that job is done.”