PBA of NYS Renews Call for Increased Park Police Staffing
Thursday, May 26, 2016
The Police Benevolent Association of New York State Law Enforcement (PBA of NYS) is again strengthening its call for increased Park Police staffing as the unofficial start of summer approaches.
The PBA of NYS, the union representing 245 state Park Police officers, said state parks across New York do not have enough police on duty to adequately protect the parks and their patrons. Union leaders have expressed deep concern over the past two years as the state has promoted tourism.
This urgency is now amplified further as the park-goers visit state parks, campgrounds and historic sites over the Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer.
“The crime rates at state parks very often mirror the rates in the community, but many of our parks understaffed or unstaffed for many hours of each day,” said PBA of NYS Park Police Officers Director Troy Caupain. “While the state is boasting that state parks drew more than 65 million people last year, our members want the public to know that there might not be a police officer there if they need one. This is a matter of public safety and appropriate policing.”
The State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation employs 251 police officers. According to the state Department of Civil Service, the state should have at least 387 Park Police officers. While 17 officers recently graduated from the Park Police Academy, the force has suffered a net loss of 12 officers since last July.
In the western district of the state parks’ system, there are only 37 Park Police officers assigned to cover 100,000 acres of state land, including Letchworth State Park, Niagara Falls State Park, the Buffalo Harbor and several other parks, including many along lakes Ontario and Erie.
In the mid-state region of the state parks’ system, which includes the Thousand Islands along the Canadian Border, Finger Lakes there are only 31 Park Police officers and no overnight police coverage at the dozens of campgrounds.
In the Hudson Valley district alone includes state parks from Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Lake Taghkanic State Park, Bear Mountain and the Walkway over the Hudson State Park, which draws a half million people a year. There are 42 Park Police officers in this region, including 10 probationary rookies who are not able to make arrests or patrol alone yet.
There are only 52 Park Police officers covering all of New York City and Long Island, where parks are more often than not left unstaffed or understaffed by police.
Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Ramos (A8020) and Senator Pat Gallivan (S05882) would set a minimum Park Police staff level at 387 permanent, full-time officers.
Since 2001, policing in state parks has changed dramatically. State parks are regularly identified as soft targets, requiring highly trained police professionals, and they often mirror the same crime profile as large and small municipalities. The PBA of NYS has aggressively advocated for increased staffing, citing incidences such as beach brawls, sexual assaults, motor vehicle accidents, DWIs and many other crimes of opportunity resulting from an inadequate police presence.
In 2015, state parks were the sites of DWIs, gang fights, sexual assaults, thefts, drug sale and abuse, and alcohol sales and abuse, among other crimes. This week alone, a gang-related attack among high-schoolers occurred at Hempstead Lake State Park in Nassau County. Moments before the incident, Park Police were called away from the park to back up fellow officers at Jones Beach.
“The public should know that it has become virtually impossible to do any proactive policing such as thorough beach patrols, DWI checkpoints, missing persons, alcohol consumption and illegal drug use and sale,” said PBA Vice President and Park Police Sergeants Director Manny Vilar. “Prevention should be a priority, but it is not. I call on State Parks leaders to prove state parks are safe, based on the number of officers versus the number of patrons. They are misleading the public as well as decision makers in Albany by suggesting police protection is adequate at state parks.”
The PBA of New York State is the exclusive bargaining agent for the New York State University (SUNY) Police, the New York State Environmental Conservation Police, the New York State Park Police, and the New York State Forest Rangers. Our members police and protect New York State’s public universities and colleges; state parks and historic sites; and they enforce state laws and protect our lands and forests and ensure environmental safety and quality throughout the state.