Assaults on Park Service officers increase

Federal officers serving in the National Park Service were assaulted 111 times in 2004, an increase of 13 incidents from two years earlier, according to agency records.

Park Service data obtained by the Washington-based watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility shows that 33 of the incidents resulted in injury to park rangers or members of the U.S. Park Police. None resulted in death.

Officers in Washington, D.C., were assaulted 28 times. California and Wyoming recorded 15 incidents each. Hands or feet were used in 56 of the assaults, 24 were verbal threats, 17 involved vehicles and six were attacks with knives.

Another document obtained by PEER details the assaults.

According to PEER, the Park Service is the most dangerous law enforcement agency in government. Its officers are 12 times more likely to be killed or injured as a result of an assault than are FBI agents.

Park Service spokesman Al Nash said that the number of incidents has been fairly steady over the past few years. Park Service officers' jobs are complicated by the fact that they have to function as regular police officers in addition to protecting monuments and icons that receive 277 million annual visitors, he said.

"These are rather challenging and complicated jobs that we ask our law enforcement personnel" to do, Nash said. "If you look at [the assaults] in terms of the number of visitors, it is not a large number of assaults, but I don't want to downplay their significance either."

There are about 2,000 National Park rangers, according to Nash. While the number of Park Police officers is not released for security reasons, there are more than 600, Park Police spokesman Scott Fear said.

"The number of officers available is not the only answer to the concerns about adequate protection," Nash said. "I think we would always like more … that is one of the reasons we do an analysis to determine what our specific needs are and what are the ways to meet those needs."

PEER interpreted the rise in officer assaults as evidence that the law enforcement agency is understaffed and underfunded.

"The U.S. Park Police today has fewer officers than it did before September 11, 2001," said Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director. "On top of an expanded homeland security role, the day-to-day demands of police work on the U.S. Park Police continue to grow, but its resources have not kept pace."

PEER is representing former Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, who was fired in July 2004 after she told members of the media that the agency's staffing level was inadequate.

Randall Kendrick, executive director of the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that the Park Service's record for protecting its officers is "astoundingly poor." He said that the assaults against park rangers are undercounted because there is pressure within the agency to not report incidents if there is not a death or injury.

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