December 20, 1999

As we enter the new millennium and now mourn the loss of yet another Ranger, struck down in the line of duty, it is particularly appropriate to reflect on the following statements made more than a quarter of a century ago:

“…The major share of the responsibility [for the Ranger’s death] must rest with the Service. It is the Service, who by omission, neglect, or inattention, operates an inadequate or sub-standard enforcement program…”

“…There appears to be a general reluctance in the Park Service to readily accept and visibly support the fact that effective enforcement services are vital to the successful operation of the Parks and their enjoyment by the many visitors.”

Consider the popular Park Service terms such as “soft image,” “low profile,” “resource education,” “resource stewardship,” “visitor and resource protection,” upon which the Service relies in concerted effort to avoid the use of more clear and commonly understood terms such as “law enforcement” or “police duties.”

“…The most serious problems with such general descriptive terms are they leave many unanswered questions as to actual operating procedures. Thus, officers on borderline cases will try to maintain a “low profile” and get themselves involved in incidents which can escalate into dangerous situations for themselves and/or others they are trying to protect.”

All of these comments were included in the official report from the Board of Review assessing the August 5, 1973 murder of a ranger at Point Reyes National Seashore. At that time he was the fourth U.S. Park Ranger to be feloniously killed in the line of duty, though the NPS, itself, pronounced him to be the first, having “forgotten” about the three others before him. Since that time three other U.S. Park Rangers have been murdered in the line of duty…a significant number of law enforcement officers murdered for an agency of our size. Many others have suffered serious injury in assaults and “accidents” resulting from improper equipment, inadequate training, and poor candidate screening. This does not even include the killings, assaults, and kidnappings, of other NPS employees who were targeted because they were readily identifiable as federal employees, indistinguishable from their law enforcement counterparts in the same agency.

THE SERVICE HAS LEARNED NOTHING in the more than twenty-six years that have passed since the murder in 1973…or the others that came before and followed. These same comments cited above, and many of the other criticisms made by that board (i.e., substandard communications, inadequate staffing, lack of back-up, lack of access to proper equipment, and ambiguity over ranger “image,” etc.) could easily be applied to the subsequent murders of U.S. Park Rangers in 1990 at Gulf Islands NP, and now, again, this December 12, 1999, in Hawaii. Dozens of other Rangers have suffered serious injuries and/or narrowly escaped death or injury as a result of these same and other unmitigated deficiencies in the way the NPS manages its “protection” program.

With every Ranger killed there has come the predictable declarations from the offices of the Secretary, the Director, and others that “…safety comes first,” and “…any lessons we can possibly learn…[from these killings]…we will certainly implement…” Yet nothing really changes, because it is fundamentally contrary to NPS culture and tradition to recognize law enforcement as a legitimate professional endeavor, and to change the way our law enforcement program is managed through the establishment of mandatory national standards that might diminish the autonomy and discretion superintendents have exercised over law enforcement for nearly a hundred years.

We cannot even say that the Service has “failed” to learn its lessons. That characterization is too kind and forgiving.

The Service has refused to learn any lessons from the literally hundreds of serious assaults, murders, shooting incidents, and wrecks through which U.S. Park Rangers have suffered over their nearly hundred year history; having summarily rejected the legitimate efforts of many dedicated individuals and organizations to seize upon the lessons of the past (including the findings of our own review boards) in attempts to apply those lessons to affect much needed change to NPS policies, procedures, organizational structure, and management practices.

Perhaps it is time to respond to those who, in their resistance to change and the professionalization of our law enforcement program, have asked:

Do we really have THAT many Rangers killed?… [that we need to change the way we run our law enforcement program?].

This very question was rhetorically posed by a superintendent and senior member of the current DO/RM-9 workgroup during a heated discussion, as justification to (successfully) whittle away at the mandatory standards and procedures that had been proposed by “the wrong people” in the draft policy they had prepared. Similar sentiments and statements have been echoed over the years by other managers throughout the Service, whether over the budget table or in passionate resistance to the adoption of policies and procedures that would reflect compliance with standards and practices of the broader “law enforcement” community.

So, let us now respond, in kind, with the question:



Copyright @ December 20, 1999 by Paul Berkowitz