Longtime Portland park ranger: ‘We are not the police of the parks, period, and we’re not going to be, period.’

Posted 8 days ago


A proposal to hire more park rangers to help stem Portland’s dramatic rise of shootings and gun deaths over the last year stunned one of Portland’s longest-serving park rangers.

Dave Barrios, who has worked as a ranger for 15 years after 30 years as a police officer, said he knew nothing about the proposal by three commissioners.

They didn’t come to him, he said, but if they had, he would have told them the approach is risky and impractical.

Park rangers aren’t certified as law enforcement officers and not all receive the same training, Barrios said.

And while they wear a uniform and carry radios and pepper spray, they have less authority than a parking patrol attendant, he said.

“We are not the police of the parks, period, and we’re not going to be, period,” Barrios said. “It’s not something that the rangers themselves want.”

The draft proposal, part of a $4.9 million gun violence package floated by three commissioners, has drawn immediate questions about its effectiveness and safety.

Commissioners Carmen Rubio, Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan called for spending $1.4 million in park levy money to hire 24 more seasonal rangers through December.

That would boost the seasonal ranks to 37, in addition to another 24 rangers who work year-round.

They also want to create a “ranger engagement team” to respond the day after a shooting in or near a park to support visitors.

Their plan pointedly doesn’t include any money for the Police Bureau to bring back a uniformed patrol team – with added community oversight -- focused on enforcing gun laws as the mayor and a group of community leaders want.

The City Council last summer eliminated the Gun Violence Reduction Team, citing its disproportionate stops of people of color.

So far this year, at least 266 shootings have occurred throughout the city, including 81 that resulted in injuries, police said. Guns have caused 18 of the city’s 25 homicides since Jan. 1. At that rate, Portland would finish the year with a record 100 homicides.

From July 1 through March 28, relatively few of the shootings have occurred in parks --26 out of 917 shootings, about 3%, according to police figures.

The commissioners realize rangers aren’t sworn officers but see them as just one piece of the larger puzzle, with expanded funding for community support services, said Rubio’s spokesman Will Howell.

“The idea is by being extra eyes in the park and being a constant presence, they’d be a calming influence, as they have been for years, but with an increased capacity,” Howell said.

Rubio also believes rangers could handle low-level incidents in parks to “free up capacity for police” to respond to more serious crimes, he said.

She and other commissioners suggested the Police Bureau use savings from officer vacancies to pay for six additional detectives and a sergeant to investigate gun violence, he said.

“We fully recognize there’s a place for police in all of this. The question is whether there’s a need for new resources. We think there’s money that the Police Bureau already has,” Howell said.

Much of the savings from more than 90 police vacancies has been used to cover increased overtime costs stemming from police response to protests over the past year and other bureau expenses, according to police and city budget analysts.

When the council made $15 million in police budget cuts last July, that eliminated much of the “vacancy cushion” and the Police Bureau had to find other ways to support its expenses, said Katie Shifley, a city budget analyst.

“While new vacancies have arisen over the course of the year, those savings are largely helping them to end the year on balance rather than materializing as savings available for reallocation,” Shifley said.

The Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau operates 146 neighborhood parks. Rangers patrol seven days a week, including a night shift, to cover the nearly 12,000 acres of land in the parks system.

They are on regular assignment in Forest Park and Washington Park. They also patrol more than a dozen downtown-area parks daily – typically the most-visited.

The rangers are certified through the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training as unarmed security providers.

They complete a 14-hour unarmed private security course and ... (Read more)