U.S. PARK POLICE
Union Calls Department A 'Mess,' Seeks New Management, Funding
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
The Fraternal Order of Police appealed yesterday for management changes and a bigger budget for the U.S. Park Police, saying the agency that protects the nation's monuments is a "mess."
"We'll keep floundering in this mess until somebody steps in and helps us," said Jim Austin, chairman of the union labor committee that represents Park Police officers. "We're at a critical point."
Officers blame Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford for many of the problems cited in a report released yesterday, Austin said. The Interior Department's inspector general found that the agency is short-staffed, ill-equipped and inadequately trained and is failing in its mission to protect such icons as the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument.
A "majority of the force" believes that Pettiford should be replaced, Austin said. A union survey last year found that only 2.2 percent of the respondents had confidence in Pettiford, who took over in 2004.
According to Austin, the Park Police force needs at least 100 more officers to adequately police national parks and icons. Many of the department's 592 officers are told to cover two beats at a time, and some watch over monuments for 12 hours at a stretch, without breaks, he said. And, as noted in the report, officers have concerns about the effectiveness of aging protective vests and the condition of the agency's cars, Austin said.
Pettiford declined to comment yesterday. In an interview Sunday, he said that he inherited many of the issues highlighted by the inspector general's office and that he is doing his best to make improvements.
David Barna, chief spokesman for the National Park Service, said officials are taking the findings "very seriously." The service has 90 days to respond to the report.
Barna said staffing has varied in recent years.
"When you talk about staffing, you can't equate the number of police with safety," he said. "We've put in place surveillance cameras and other precautions. There's a whole package."
The inspector general's office said it found some cameras out of order and questioned how well they are being monitored. The report said that Park Police officials "routinely offer" the camera system as a catchall response to security questions. But the technology "in no way replaces the need" for adequate personnel, the report said.
The report, the latest in a series of critical assessments issued in recent years, relied on interviews with law enforcement personnel and observations gleaned from 40 visits to Washington sites.
The inspector general's team said it found one Park Police officer sleeping near the Jefferson Memorial and questioned the readiness of the contract security guards that the agency hires to help cover the monuments.