The civilian park rangers, many of them college-age adults who
began their duties over the Memorial Day weekend, will help
augment security at New York's more than 350 parks, historic
sites, recreation areas, golf courses and beaches.
State officials said they are confident the new security
program will help to ensure the safety of campers and other
recreational enthusiasts. They also attribute the rise in
reported crimes to a crackdown by state Park Police and the
addition of 18 parks during the past few years.
``Last year, we were named best state park system in the
country,'' said Wendy Gibson, a spokeswoman for the state
Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. ``We
have a zero-tolerance policy and an increased vigilance in
In 1999, state Park Police recorded 4,293 crimes, most of
them minor offenses such as trespassing, driving while
intoxicated, criminal mischief, larceny and drugs. But by last
year, the number of crimes reported to Park Police had climbed
to more than 6,670.
A similar surge was seen in Saratoga County -- home of the
Saratoga Performing Arts Center -- where Park Police
documented 71 reported crimes in 1999, but more than 250 last
``My take on it is that it's more of an increase in
enforcement and more of a tolerance thing,'' said Saratoga
Springs police Capt. Michael Biss, a 28-year veteran.
At SPAC, like many other state parks, drug offenses,
larcenies and DWI arrests account for most of the crimes.
But concertgoers at SPAC usually draw the most attention
from police. During many shows, Park Police team up with
undercover teams from State Police and the Saratoga Springs
Police Department, cruising the sprawling SPAC grounds in
search of people consuming alcohol or drugs.
Following most rock concerts, City Court is jammed with
young adults arrested for marijuana violations and other
Biss said despite the surge in reported crimes, SPAC and
other state parks do not pose a danger to the public. Consider
that in the past five years, there has not been a single
homicide in any state park and other so-called Part I crimes
-- including rape, robbery and burglary -- make up only a
small percentage of overall criminal activity.
Park Police Officer Tom Coulter, who is president of the
local union that represents New York's about 180 full-time
park officers, said many crimes go unreported because people
don't want to take time to find a park officer and fill out a
``We have a lot of crimes that go unreported, like when
half a dozen youths start harassing a family and no cops are
around,'' Coulter said. ``Does the father spend two hours at a
police station making a report or does he leave? He leaves.''
Many quality-of-life crimes, such as stolen camping
equipment or vandalism, also go unreported because of an
arguably thin level of Park Police staffing, Coulter said.
In the past, the state hired 350 to 500 seasonal officers
each summer. This year, the state hired 40 new park officers
to raise the statewide number to about 250. The full-timers
are helping replace more than 200 part-time, seasonal
officers. In addition, the state has hired more than 200
seasonal rangers to oversee the enforcement of park
regulations and minor infractions.
The shift to part-time rangers, who lack arrest powers but
can write summonses for parking and other minor violations,
comes as the Park Police collectively is growing younger. Part
of the reason is that people who take jobs with the Park
Police often stay only long enough to get some experience
before leaving for a job with a municipal police agency that
offers better benefits and retirement packages.
``Since 2000, we have put through five classes of new
recruits,'' a total of about 200 graduates, Coulter said.
``Out of those past five classes, we have 120 who are still on
the job ... most with less than four years experience as a
Unlike many small-town and city police forces, where
authorities often know the identities of their troublemakers,
Coulter said the dynamics of park policing are more complex
because ``from one day to the next you don't know who you're
going to be dealing with. In many of the parks, we have
different motorcycle gangs who will suddenly show up.''
And for Park Police officers, patrolling thousands of acres
often is like being a Lone Ranger.
``I have never been in a situation in 18 years where I
wasn't outnumbered,'' said Coulter, 59, who patrols the Bear
Mountain State Park and Palisades region from near the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point to the New Jersey state line.
``It's usually a case where you're one officer dealing with a
Still, the part-time ranger program launched last week is
coupled with a plan to add about 140 more full-time officers
to the force in the coming years, authorities said.
For the public, the plan still means far fewer armed police
officers patrolling state lands during the busy summer season.
``We anticipate it being a successful program,'' Gibson
said. ``Now more than ever, we find that people seek the
protective settings of the parks to spend time with their
families and friends.''
All Times Union
materials copyright 1996-2004, Capital Newspapers Division of
The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.