Park Police Duties Exceed Staffing Anti-Terror Demands Have Led Chief to Curtail Patrols Away From Mall
This article was originally published Dec. 2, 2003.
The U.S. Park Police department has been forced to divert patrol officers to stand guard around major monuments, causing Chief Teresa C. Chambers to express worry about declining safety in parks and on parkways.
Chambers said traffic accidents have increased on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which now often has two officers on patrol instead of the recommended four. In neighborhood areas, she said residents are complaining that homeless people and drug dealers are again taking over smaller parks.
"It's fair to say where it's green, it belongs to us in Washington, D.C.," Chambers said of her department. "Well, there's not enough of us to go around to protect those green spaces anymore."
Today, the force will begin training unarmed guards who will stand watch outside the monuments. It will be the first time in recent memory that guards have performed such duties. The Department of Homeland Security ordered additional protection around the monuments.
In the long run, Chambers said, her 620-member department needs a major expansion, perhaps to about 1,400 officers.
Congressional leaders, however, have urged the Park Police force to refocus on the Mall, cutting back on such activities as drug investigations and traffic enforcement that take them away from National Park Service lands.
The Park Police department, an arm of the Park Service, claims to be the oldest uniformed federal police agency, tracing its roots to a group of watchmen hired in 1791 to guard public buildings and lands in the capital. The force includes about 400 officers in the Washington area, with the rest split between parks in New York and San Francisco.
In this area, park officers are charged with protecting the Mall, where they were engaged the standoff with tractor-driving tobacco farmer Dwight W. Watson in March. But the force also patrols Rock Creek Park, several major parkways and an assortment of other federal land from Capitol Hill's Lincoln Park to the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.
Park Police said that this spring, after a survey by the U.S. Secret Service and endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior adopted rules requiring four officers to be posted at all times outside the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Previously, the Washington Monument had one or two officers stationed, and the two memorials had one each.
These new requirements, plus a new post at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, meant nine additional officers would be on the Mall on most shifts. Before the change, the entire force had just 24 officers on patrol most of the time.
A Homeland Security spokesman said yesterday that he was aware of the Secret Service survey but had no further information about its findings. An Interior spokesman deferred all questions to the Park Police.