Fewer Park Police Despite Record Visitation and Anti-Trump Demonstrations
The thin blue line protecting our national icons and most visitors to our nation’s capital is getting thinner, according to U.S. Park Police staffing figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The number of Park Police sworn officers is at the lowest point in nearly a decade and down more than 15% in the Washington Metro Area just since 2010.
Established by George Washington in 1791, the U.S. Park Police is our first federal constabulary. It provides security for the Statue of Liberty and other assets in New York Harbor, as well as the Presidio and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the most heavily visited national park unit, in San Francisco. But the Park Police play an outsized role in the District of Columbia, providing security for visitors, monuments and other park facilities occupying nearly 70% of DC’s total land area.
Despite these far-flung responsibilities, the number of Park Police officers has shrunk from 652 in Fiscal Year 2010 to just 583 in 2016. The number based in the DC area has dropped from 466 to 406 in the same period. At the same time –
- Visitation to DC-area park units has been at record levels, topping more than 40 million a year;
- The presidential inauguration of Donald Trump has sparked repeated massive demonstrations, usually met with counter-demonstrations, with no sign of let-up; and
- In 2015, the last year for which the Park Police had statistics, these little more than 400 DC-based officers responded to more than 25,000 incidents, ranging from traffic accidents to poaching, nearly 50,000 search-rescues and other requests and nearly 4,500 crimes, ranging from robberies and drunk driving to assaults and vandalism.
“The U.S. Park Police are at a low ebb while facing a rising tide,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the U.S. Park Police may also be facing cuts under emerging Trump budget plans. “In recent years, this force has not had the personnel to match its mission and that gap is only growing larger.”
In contrast to shrinking force levels in the DC area, the number of sworn officers in the New York and San Francisco field offices have remained relatively steady. In addition to its other duties, the Park Police DC office provides personal security for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who borrowed a USPP horse to ride to work on his first full day in office.
PEER had to file a lawsuit to obtain updated figures it requested last August under the Freedom of Information Act. The last annual report available from the agency is for 2013.
“This information should be routinely posted in a timely manner,” added Ruch. “The Park Police apparently does not have enough staff to handle routine information requests.”