MARK, MY WORDS - Los Angeles park rangers have petitioned repeatedly for the right to carry a sidearm like all law enforcement officers who are expected to protect and serve, enforce the law and get home safely at the end of the day. Our city agencies including Recreation and Parks, the city council and the Mayor’s office in their twisted collective wisdom have decided to block that request based on manufactured statistics, pressure from anti law enforcement groups and the ill-conceived idea that wishing away crime is better than actually stopping it.
In 2020, councilmember Buscaino introduced a motion that would allow our park rangers to carry a sidearm while on duty. Frankly, I was stunned when I heard that this was not a requirement for a peace officer, since I have never met a criminal who voluntarily stops “criminalizing” without substantial persuasion. That being said, remedying the oversight simply requires a vote from the GM and board of Recreation and Parks, so long as there is no opposition from city hall. In Los Angeles however, common sense is often trumped by political aspirations, special interests and what sometimes seems to be just plain spite.
LA Rangers are an interesting breed with a broad skill set that includes wildlife preservation, fire prevention and upholding the law within and around our public parks as sworn peace officers. They patrol over 16,000 acres of parkland 559 park sites, historic landmarks such as Griffith Park, Greek Theatre, the Hollywood Sign, Venice Beach, Cabrillo Beach Aquarium and 12 museums. They are also responsible for 92 miles of hiking trails and protection for over 1300 full time employees. All LA City Park Rangers are required to have a minimum 4 year degree or 4 years previous law enforcement experience and receive their firearms training along side LAPD Officers or LASD Deputies when they attend either of the approved Police Academies.
Clearly LA Rangers are on or above par with the LAPD in this regard, but are given substantially less pay and benefits, a testament to their dedication to and love of their occupation. Our current 27 rangers are tasked with patrolling all these acres often alone and always unarmed. They frequently encounter dangerous and armed suspects in the most remote areas of Los Angeles, while being expected to make arrests. The majority of surrounding cities that have a Park Ranger Program allow a firearm to be carried on duty. Here are some stats sent to me from LAAPOA (ranger’s union) in 2021 for perspective:
There have been 38 homicides over the past four years in L.A. city parks. Over the same period, there have been 267 rapes, 1,844 assaults with a deadly weapon and 1,050 robberies. The crimes committed underscore the danger L.A. city park rangers face.
Though Chief Moore and Councilmen Lee and Buscaino have bravely and publicly stated their support for the rangers’ request, they are opposed by Monica Rodriguez, BLM and by Jimmy Kim, the current appointed GM of Rec. & Parks. When seeking their endorsement, Mr. Kim lead the ranger’s union to believe that he supported the motion but in the 11th hour, withdrew his support. Being an appointed GM, could he have been pressured by anti-law enforcement groups or the city councilmembers who enable them? No other logical explanation comes to mind since there are no data to support such a move. Kim and the five R&P appointed commissioners could put all this to rest and simply decide to arm the rangers but have not done so.
(NOTE: I reached out to Mr. Kim to allow him to share his side of the story and never heard back.)
Black Lives Matter LA co-founder Melina Abdullah has voiced opposition to arming our park rangers:
“I’m a mother of three children. I go to the park so that we can get away from the violence of society... I’m a Black mother of three Black children who see guns on officers as threats to their lives, and so we’re asking you to vote no on this motion. Park rangers should not be armed.”
What about park dwelling scofflaws or worse, who are armed for the purpose of robbery or violence against the public? Does anyone seriously believe that rangers are a bigger threat to children in our parks than criminals? I am unaware of any statistics that back such a ridiculous assertion. Abdullah is of course allowed her opinion, but our city officials can no longer be allowed to legislate theirs without responsible, objective and extensive examination of facts and unintended consequences.
City sponsored bashing of law enforcement may be popular and cathartic in the short term, but our city officials do irreparable damage to public confidence and officer moral that will likely lead to a mass migration of new LAPD and Ranger candidates to agencies outside of our city where they will be more appreciated. Will it take an unarmed ranger being shot to reconsider this motion? What kind of a person would accept such a price? Disgraced councilwoman Nury Martinez and resigned councilman Mike Bonin are no longer an existential threat to our city, but installed bad actors still remain. Whether or not the new mayor continues this trend is yet to be seen.
Guns are scary to some folks. I get it, but guns in the hands of criminals are considerably scarier and we are talking about less than 30 sidearms for less than 30 rangers. Under municipal code 63.41, our park rangers are authorized to make arrests, but not to carry firearms. To expect them to confront potentially armed suspects in our remote hills and aboraceous parks shows either a serious lack of understanding of the job or a callous disregard for the safety of officers. At the very least, Monica “D e- fund LAPD” Rodriguez, being the chair of the public safety committee and Jimmy Kim as GM should, and must know better.
Doesn’t anyone in this city care about what is true or real anymore? Because a group calls themselves animal activists, we are expected to believe them when they tell us that ponies in Griffith park are being abused and a 74 year family business must be destroyed along with the hopes of countless children who have enjoyed pony-ride birthday parties in Griffith park for decades? To believe that the majority of our homeless population who live and often set fires in our parks is not made up of criminals and people suffering from substance abuse and mental illness? If the only unfounded excuse to deny the motion is a fear of rangers running wild through the parks of LA hunting down innocent minorities because anti- law enforcement radicals tell us so, then the answer is clear.
Enough is enough. It is time that the adults in the room stand up to this nonsense and take back the reins of this great city. As the majority of neighborhood councils vote to support the rangers’ motion, cowardly and corrupt politicians continue to waste our tax dollars on funding their experimental and dangerous ideas of some fantasy Utopian shangri-la where the honor system replaces law enforcement. The city’s disregard for the safety of our LA Rangers, park employees and the public who visit our parks, is disgraceful and may very well end up costing lives and millions of dollars in well earned lawsuits.
Please write your councilperson, our new mayor and the Recreation and Parks Commission to remind them who they work for and who funds them. It is cruel, irresponsible and just plain stupid to send our rangers into our parks unarmed. Waiting to see if a “re-imagined” policy of replacing sidearms with “hugs and kisses” yields favorable results is a very bad idea.
Los Angeles Park Rangers Incident
Los Angeles Park Rangers Press Conference
Council File link: Majority support for LA Rangers to be armed
(Mark Dutton is a lifelong musician, music producer, and writer. He was arguing politics with my parents since as a pre-teen. Mark majored in psychology and left college in his 3rd year on a 30 year magic bus trip around the world playing and writing music with some of the best in the biz.)