Dec-10-2018
National Park Service
HISTORY SUMMARY OF NATIONAL PARK SERVICE LAW ENFORCEMENT

 

   The National Park Service is another agency that is a somewhat "spin-off" from the General Land Office (GLO). At first the national parks were actually called "public park" reservations. As such, they were reservations of the public domain that was administered by the GLO. The National Park Service would become known as the agency that first employed "park rangers." But the first "government" employee engaged in protecting a park, would go by a different title and work for a different government.

   In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a law that granted the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees to the State of California. It could be said that this was sort of a 10th Amendment experiment. California had already achieved statehood in 1850. It seems that the Congress recognized the need to set this scenic park aside from the public domain and the operation of the public land laws. But at the same time, they were not inclined to get the Federal government in the park business. So Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove became the first state park.

   On May 21, 1866, Galen Clark was appointed as the "Guardian of Yosemite." He was the first person formally appointed and paid to protect and administer a great natural park. Essentially he became the nation's first park ranger. However, the title "ranger" would not be officially coined by a government entity until the General Land Office would use it for the first forest reserve rangers in 1897.

   For several decades, the State of California would struggle, politically and fiscally, in managing the Yosemite park. There would be a handful of other guardians appointed. On June 11, 1906, President Roosevelt signed the Federal bill that officially accepted the return of Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove from the State of California as part of the new Yosemite National Park and the 10th Amendment experiment would be over.

   The story of the concept of creating reservations for protective purposes on the public domain goes back to the creation of the Yellowstone "public park" Reservation in 1872. Yellowstone would be the Federal Government's first experiment in setting aside a reservation of the public domain from the public land laws for settlement. At first, only a part-time civilian superintendent and a few assistants, most from out of State, were assigned to the reservation. As most of the reservation was within the Wyoming Territory, little reliance could be placed on local authorities and it fell to the Federal Government to protect it. Unlike in the Yosemite example, the Federal government could not cede this "park" to the state because Wyoming was yet to gain statehood.

   In 1880 Yellowstone Superintendent Philetus W. Norris hired Harry S. Yount as a year-round "game keeper." Although Yount has traditionally been considered the first park ranger, others had previously been hired to assist the superintendent. He was paid the munificent sum of $1,000 a year, not bad considering that the total budget for the park was only $15,000. Even so, Yount worked for only one year, complaining that the park was too large for one man to patrol.

   The lack of adequate enforcement in the reservation was quite apparent. A special agent of the General Land Office conducted an investigative tour of the reservation in 1883 and concluded:

   The Government has not the kind of men holding the position of assistant superintendents that it should have. The duties of the office require men possessing both judgement and nerve, men who have the physical courage to do their full duty in the face of the rough element which is to be found in the Park, and which has not yet been made to realize that the regulations of the Interior Department for the government of the Park must be respected and observed. In making selections of men to fill these positions, I think the interests of the Government would be served by taking those who have lived on the frontier and are accustomed to hardships.

   But the Department of the Interior was not quick to follow this recommendation. Rather, the Department requested that the U.S. Army " make the necessary details of troops to prevent trespassers or intruders from entering the park." The Army took charge of protecting the reservation on August 17, 1886, under the leadership of Captain Moses Harris. Captain Harris was quick to see that Army protection of the Yellowstone Reservation was not a permanent solution to the problem. He had this to say in his June 1888 report to the Secretary of the Interior:

   I would most earnestly call your attention to the entire inadequacy of the laws to provide punishment for violations of the regulations for the protection of the Park. In fact, so far as the enforcement of the laws of the Park proper there is no system available by which it can be done. The protection that I have been able to give the Park has been through the Territorial laws of Wyoming, which the legislature repealed last winter. I would suggest that a law be enacted by Congress establishing a court within and for the Yellowstone National Park, with exclusive jurisdiction of all misdemeanors, and with the power to examine and hold to bail all cases of felonies, to be tried at the nearest court having criminal jurisdiction; that the assistant superintendents be authorized to serve any process of said court; that the judge thereof be a man learned in the law and of good moral character. With a court of this character, and an efficient force of assistants to act as ministerial officers, there would be comparatively little trouble in protecting and keeping the Park.

   Captain Harris included in his report a detailed estimate of the appropriations that would be required to adequately protect the reservation. He called for the staffing of 11 gamekeepers and 21 policemen. His report would actually be a prediction of the future of what it might take to enforce laws and regulations in protective reservations in the future. As it would be another decade before the title "ranger" would be established, he used the only titles he thought would be applicable, namely gamekeepers and policemen. What actually occurred was the creation of a job that was a hybrid between gamekeepers and policemen that would become known as "rangers." He also was predicting in his report that it was ultimately going to require a civilian force rather than military.

   Unfortunately, since the Army's mandate only extended to the removal of the "trespassers" and "intruders", it became extremely difficult for it to cope with the many interlopers and souvenir hunters that were destroying the game and objects of curiosity, especially after the congress passed the 1894 Lacey Act forbidding hunting in national parks. To remedy this situation civilian "scouts", were hired by the Department of the Interior, under whose jurisdiction the "public park" reserves fell at the time. Scouts were also required to stop the grazing of livestock, mainly sheep, by local ranchers on park grounds. They were issued a badge of authority. For Yellowstone National Park, this consisted of a two-inch circle with "YELLOWSTONE PARK SCOUT" stamped in it. The middle of the circle was cut out to form a star with the badge number in the center. The badge was similar to many of those issued to lawmen of the period.

   Congress passed the Yellowstone Game Protection Act on May 7, 1894.  It imposed harsh penalties on poachers.  It also served to establish a comprehensive code of criminal laws to regulate the conduct in Yellowstone and protect park resources. The Act also directed the United States Circuit Court in the District of Wyoming to appoint a commissioner to permanently reside in the park. An appropriation was also made for the construction of a jail and courtroom at Mammoth Hot Springs.

   General Land Office forest reserve rangers would also be used in areas later known as national parks. Sequoia, Yosemite, and General Grant areas had been set aside as "public parks" or "forest reservations." The GLO managed these areas in the same manner as the forest reservations. Occasionally, special timber agents were sent from the GLO to Sequoia to check on grazing trespass and illegal timber cutting. Later the U.S. Army was employed to provide protection of Sequoia, Yosemite and General Grant. The Army had to leave these three areas for the Spanish-American War in April of 1898. During their absence, the protection of these three parks was assigned to the General Land Office. GLO special inspector J.W. Zevely was assigned as acting superintendent for these parks.

   On June 24, 1898, Inspector Zevely swore in eleven men as "forest agents" to protect Yosemite while the Army was gone. He employed these assistant "forest agents" during the summer to eject sheep trespassers and fight forest fires. In Yosemite, these "forest agents" were assigned to two special agents. Special Agent A.W. Buick was responsible for the northern part of Yosemite and he was in charge of forest agents Archie C. Leonard, George R. Byde, Henry A. Skelton, Charles Leidig, and Arthur L. Thurman. Special Agent Cullum was responsible for the southern part of Yosemite and he was in charge of forest agents George G. MacKenzie, Thomas S. Carter, David Lackton, Darwin S. Lewis, Joel J. Westfall, and Joseph R. Borden. Both groups were well armed, and they abated sheep trespass, fought forest fires, and arrested all those with firearms. In the summer of 1898, they expelled about 190,000 head of livestock and confiscated 27 firearms.

   When the Army returned on August 25, 1898, the eleven "forest agents" were dismissed. In September 1898, the GLO acting superintendent received authorization to employ forest reserve rangers to assist the Army in the "public park" reservations. Charles A. Leidig and Archie C. Leonard became forest reserve rangers at Yosemite on September 23, 1898. They were paid out of funds for the GLO's Sierra Forest Reserve and were issued forest reserve ranger badges. They would become the first such rangers working in a "public park" reservation.

   The appointment of GLO "assistant special forest agents" was also authorized for the Sequoia and General Grant reservations in June 1898 as well. Ernest Britten would be the first of six forest reserve rangers for the areas. Britten was assigned to Sequoia. The Sequoia "agents" worked from June to August under the direction of the forest supervisor of the Sierra Forest Reserve. Two thousand sheep were ejected from Sequoia during the first part of the summer alone. All the agents and rangers were dispatched to an extensive forest fire in the canyons of the Kings River. After the GLO acting superintendent received permission to employ forest reserve rangers to assist the Army, Ernest Britten was assigned to the Sierra Forest Reserve as a ranger with patrol duties extending into Sequoia. In January 1900, he was assigned to work exclusively in Sequoia and was to be in charge of the park. He and other rangers were appointed as deputy state game wardens with power to enforce state game laws. A 1902 picture of four forest reserve rangers depicted Lew Davis, Ernest Britten, Charlie Blossom, and Harry Britten. They are all wearing the round GLO forest reserve ranger badge.

 

  According to Historian Douglas Brinkley in his book The Wilderness Warrior, President Theodore Roosevelt had hoped that the old-breed of mountain men, husbandry experts, and Rough Rider – types could be employed in national parks and forest reserves as rangers.  In a 1901 Annual Sequoia National Park Superintendent’s report, the term“park ranger” was used for the first time and Roosevelt liked the ring of it.


   On February 1, 1905, an act of Congress transferred the forest reserves from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. Along with this went the money to pay the rangers in the parks, thus, in effect, making them among the first employees of the new Forest Service. Secretary of the Interior Ethan Allen Hitchcock, in an exchange of letters with Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson, outlined the history of the rangers in the parks and asked to maintain some of them in their present status until July 1, when Interior would again have the funds for them. Wilson agreed and asked which rangers wished to remain with the parks. Four of them expressed their desire to remain: Archie Leonard and Charles Leidig in Yosemite and Lew Davis and Charlie Blossom in Sequoia.

   Even after the departmental separation of the parks and the forest reserves, rangers in the parks still considered themselves forest rangers. Acting Secretary of the Interior Thomas Ryan sought to overcome this habit in an October 2, 1905, letter that said: "It is observed that in your official communications to the Department you designate yourself as a Forest Ranger. Such designation is erroneous, your official title being Park Ranger, and official papers should be signed that way." Even so, the park rangers still thought of themselves as forest rangers for some time thereafter.

   Although the Forest Service rangers were beginning to be uniformed at this time, the park rangers were still wearing civilian clothing, with only their badges to show that they were park officials. Assistant Secretary Jesse E. Wilson believed that the "National Park Service" badge was sufficient identification for "National Park Service employees" and that "no adoption of a uniform for the national park employees is contemplated at this time." It is interesting to note that around this time, as evidenced by Wilson's letter, "national park service" was being used in reference to Interior employees working in the parks even though there was no such official organization.

   The badge was stamped and either tin or nickel plated. It was two inches in diameter with a rope edge. The words NATIONAL PARK SERVICE and DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR surrounded an eagle similar to the one used on the Interior seal at the time. It's style and appearance was remarkably similar to the logo of the United States General Land Office. It is not known exactly when this badge came into use, but it was probably soon after the forest reserves left Interior for Agriculture.

   The first truly authorized park ranger uniform would not be adopted until late June 1911. In January 1912 Assistant Secretary Thompson wrote Sigmund Eisner requesting prices for summer uniforms made from the 13-once olive drab cloth sample they had submitted. He also requested sketches of both summer and winter uniforms, plus overcoat, "together with advice as to whether bronze buttons bearing the eagle design surrounded by the words 'National Park Service, Department of the Interior,' as used upon the park ranger service badge shown you, will be procured and placed upon the uniforms." The "National Park Service" buttons thus preceded the bureau by four years. The inscription on the badge is further evidence of the even earlier currency of the term "National Park Service." On February 19, 1912, letters were sent out to all parks outlining the new olive drab uniforms being considered by the department for the park rangers.

The same act (Act of March 3, 1905) that granted law enforcement authority to the forest rangers had also granted the same authority to the park rangers as follows:

   All persons employed in the forest reserve and national park service of the United States shall have authority to make arrests for the violation of the laws and regulations relating to the forest reserves and national parks, and any person so arrested shall be taken before the nearest United States Commissioner (magistrate), within whose jurisdiction the forest or national park is located, for trial; and upon sworn information by any competent person any United States Commissioner (magistrate) in the proper jurisdiction shall issue process for the arrest of any person charged with the violation of said laws and regulations; but nothing herein contained shall be construed as preventing the arrest by any officer of the United States, without process, of any person taken in the act of violating said laws and regulations.

   Much like the forest rangers before them, the park rangers now had all the accouterments of law enforcement: badge, gun, uniform, and arrest authority. They were moving towards becoming somewhat of a standardized force.

   Finally in 1916, the National Park Service became an independent bureau under the Department of the Interior. The Act of August 25, 1916 granted the new National Park Service the same regulatory authority has had been granted to the Forest Service through the Forest Reserve Act of 1897. The 1916 act provided:

   The Secretary of the Interior shall make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or proper for the use and management of the parks, monuments, and reservations under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, and any violation of any of the rules and regulations authorized by this section and sections 1, 2, and 4 of this title shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not exceeding six months, or both, and be adjudged to pay all costs of the proceedings.

   Further, the National Parks would no longer be just mere reservations of the public domain. Also, the Antiquities Act of 1906 allowed the President to set aside national monuments. The existing national monuments in 1916 had been operated under a rudimentary custodian system under the General Land Office. These monuments would soon come under the administration of the new National Park Service. Stephen T. Mather became the first National Park Service director the following year. By this time 14 parks and 21 monuments had been established.

   Director Mather was quick to capture the basic functions of a park ranger force. He would say, "It is believed, however, that no efficient protection can be given to the parks without the support of a well-organized and disciplined police force of some description." One of Mather's trusted assistants was Horace Albright. Albright would say in a letter that, "The ranger is primarily a policeman." This would readily link the word ranger with law enforcement for years to come. The park rangers in the national parks had at last come of age. No longer would they be just a collection of men in search of an identity that varied greatly from park to park.

   In April 1919, Washington decided to change the color of the Park Service uniforms from olive drab to forest green with the trousers or breeches a shade lighter than the coat. The 1920 National Park Service Uniform Regulations stipulated what the personnel of the Service were to wear, as well as what it was to be made of. This forestry green became the standard color for National Park Service uniforms and, except for minor color variations, remains so today. A medium gray shirt was adopted to be worn with the trousers and outer wear.

   A Stetson "campaign hat" was adopted in a "belly" color. The "Smokey Bear" bear hat now became the official hat of the park rangers over ten years after the Forest Service had adopted it. But unlike the Forest Service, this hat would be embraced by the park rangers for decades to come. It also would become the most recognized symbol of a park ranger regardless of what agency they might be employed by.

   The National Park Service badge was also redesigned. The new badge consisted of a 1 1/4" coined medallion bearing an eagle and the words NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR around the outside, applied to a shield with U.S. PARK RANGER on top. The whole was nickel plated. The badges were issued under the policy: "These badges are issued to indicate Federal authority and every precaution must be taken to prevent them from falling into the hands of unauthorized persons."

   Recognizing the danger the park rangers were exposed to in their law enforcement duties, Director Mather decided to re-arm the park rangers. Using his own funds, Mather purchased a supply of Colt Model 1917 .45 caliber "new service" revolvers. These sidearms were issued to the first park rangers and were usually worn openly, either in holsters on trouser belts, or in saddle holsters.

   The dangers of park ranger law enforcement work became acute on March 12, 1927, when James Carey became the first park ranger to be shot and killed in the line of duty. He was on duty at Hot Springs National Park, but for whatever reason he had chosen not to arm himself with his trusted .38 revolver. Unarmed and defenseless, he was shot down by a band of bootleggers he had previously arrested and against whom he was schedule to testify.

   The park rangers had within their ranks many of the former forest reserve rangers. Due to the haphazard way in which forest reserve ranger appointments had been made, some bad players had become part of the early park service. Joe Cosley worked as a park ranger at Glacier National Park from 1910 to 1914. He later engaged himself in his own fur business. On May 4, 1929, Park Ranger Joe Heimes while on patrol one day discovered Joe's illegal camp and staked it out. Ten hours later, as it was getting dark, Cosley returned and settled in among his furs and traps. As he started to build a fire Heimes moved in. Heimes said later that when he approached the camp, "this poacher looked a lot like Joe Cosley." After a sleepless night and several scuffles, Heimes "managed to bump Cosley's head against a tree and sort of knocked him coo-coo." Cosley finally gave up when two more rangers showed up.

   As evidenced by the 1940 National Park Service uniform regulations, a high degree of diversification of titles was becoming apparent. Different badges with different titles were being issued. The list of titles included: superintendents, assistant superintendents, custodians, chief rangers, assistant chief rangers, park rangers, ranger naturalists, park guards, park wardens, junior park wardens, fire guards, and life guards. Apparently the title park ranger still pertained to those engaged in law enforcement duties. Although the regulations stated that "Park naturalists may be issued park ranger badges when such employees are to enforce park regulations." The regulations went on to say that, "National Park Service employees required to wear side arms may wear a Sam Browne Belt of cordovan color." That statement implied that firearms were still being actively worn with the uniform in 1940.

   The post WWII years saw an influx of new personnel into the park ranger ranks. Many of them would take on assignments in the areas of interpretation and resource management. Some of these new specialists would arise into the management ranks of Chief Ranger and Park Superintendent positions. They would take into these positions their own personal preferences and attitudes about law enforcement. There were still many rangers assigned to law enforcement functions. While the authority to carry firearms did not go away, the practice of visibly wearing firearms sort of fell to the wayside. The new Chief Rangers and Park Superintendents would implement their own attitudes and preference through establishing there own policies concerning the wear and carry of firearms. This would create inconsistencies in the application of law enforcement capability throughout the now rapidly growing National Park System.


   Many histories of the National Park Service would have you believe that things were relatively quiet in terms of law enforcement incidents in the National Parks from the post war years to 1970. However, Paul Berkowitz in his U.S. Rangers, Law of the Land, The History of Law Enforcement in the Federal Land Management Agencies would identify at least 25 separate law enforcement incidents that occurred in that time period. These incidents describe many acts of actual shootings and assault against the park rangers and some were "near misses." They describe the park rangers efforts to deal with poaching, moon-shining, traffic offenses, and even a grazing trespass. In many cases, the park rangers were carrying our these duties without firearms due to local restrictive policies. Some of the rangers choose to carry their own firearms. Others were forced to keep their guns secured in their patrol vehicles. One ranger who had been shot, was even denied payment of his medical bills because the local park manager said that the incident occurred while he was off-duty. Fortunately this judgement was overridden by the National Park Service assistant director who declared that rangers were on duty 24 hours a day. The park rangers were increasingly being exposed to law enforcement dangers, but were not being provided firearms, protective equipment or training. It was as if some park managers in that era were pretending that law enforcement problems in the national parks did not exist.


   In 1969, the infamous "Manson family," including Charlie Manson himself, were apprehended and arrested on an unpatented mining claim on BLM land just outside the boundary of Death Valley National Monument. The arrests were made by some national park rangers and a California highway patrolman. The "family members" were being sought as suspects for some stolen vehicles and vandalism to a National Park Service owned front-end loader tractor. The park rangers had been relentless in investigating these crimes and tracking the movements of the "family." At the time of the first contact and arrests, they had no idea that these people were wanted for one of the most infamous and heinous murder sprees of the 20th Century.

 

   It would be the 1970s that would bring about incidents in the national parks that would be pivotal in changing the National Park Service's approach to law enforcement in the future. During the July 4th weekend in 1970, 500 to 700 "hippie type" youths gathered at Yosemite Valley's Stoneman Meadow to indulge in music, drinking, drug use, and somewhat rowdy behavior. The meadow was a "day use" area, yet many began to set up camp for the night. The park rangers declared a curfew time when they all must leave the meadow. But the youths took up the challenge and made a stand against the rangers. The assistance from the local sheriff's office was requested and some deputies arrived to help. The rowdy youths began to confront the officers and a riot broke out. The park rangers used whatever they could find for "compliance tools" and whatever physical methods they were familiar with the affect the arrests. By the time it was over, 170 had been arrested and booked into the Yosemite jail. The "Yosemite Riots" would become infamous throughout the park law enforcement community at the various levels of government.

 

   Officials from the U.S. Park Police were sent to Yosemite to make inquiries and prepare reports about what happened in the riot. Their findings were very critical of the park rangers in Yosemite and the management of the law enforcement program there. Of particular note was most likely the park ranger's lack of basic law enforcement training and the lack of appropriate weapons for dealing with riot situations. The Park Police reports suggested that the Park Service should take steps to restructure its law enforcement efforts. After receiving the reports, the Park Service director requested additional funding and positions to improve law enforcement efforts with an emphasis on upgrading and modernizing the ranger force law enforcement operations. However, the funding and positions were actually used to expand the Park Police presence in field locations. Soon Park Police "law enforcement specialists" were being sent to each regional office and some high-activity field locations like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Pt. Reyes, and Lake Mead.

 

   Trying to get the park rangers some law enforcement training was already underway. In the summer of 1970, five park rangers had attended the United States Park Police training program at Jones Point. In June of that year, the Treasury Department opened the Consolidated Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in the Washington, DC area. Several park rangers would attend basic law enforcement training there.

 

   The law enforcement problems being experienced in 1970 finally would become part of policy discussions at the National level. Deputy Assistant Director of the National Park Service Lawrence C. Hadley published a paper titled Perspectives on Law Enforcement in Recreation Areas. He said that, "Law Enforcement must be carried out in perspective with other management programs and developed with sensitivity to the changing nature of society and the changing needs and interests of park users." He said that the traditional functions of the National Park Service had led to recruitment of rangers with academic background in the natural sciences, history, archeology, etc. He found that these backgrounds were now "unsuitable to the emerging situations" in law enforcement work. He supported his conclusions by providing the Park Service crime statistics for 1966 through 1970 which clearly illustrated a law enforcement workload in the units of the National Park System. He said that these statistics clearly suggest the need for positive action by park managers to achieve professionalism in law enforcement programs to deal with hard crime.

 

   In 1972, the Park Service director established a "Branch of Protection and Law Enforcement" in the Washington Office. This would be the first serious attempt to provide some centralized control and coordination of the Park Service law enforcement program. One of the first efforts that this office established was the issuance of law enforcement identification cards which would serve to administratively restrict law enforcement authority only to designated and trained park rangers.

 

   Another significant incident would occur that would force some change in direction in Park Service law enforcement. On August 5, 1973, Park Ranger Ken Patrick was on patrol in Pt. Reyes National Seashore when he contacted a car full of men. Unknown to Patrick was the fact that these men were hardened criminals and associated with a militant terrorist group. Park Ranger Ken Patrick was shot by the men as he approached the vehicle. The firearm he was carrying was concealed from view under his zipped up uniform jacket. This was done in a manner consistent with the "low-profile" approach that was proffered by the Park Service at the time.

 

   The Park Service convened a Board of Review that concluded: "The major share of responsibility must rest with the Service. It is the Service, who by omission, neglect or inattention, operates an inadequate or sub-standard enforcement program . . ."

 

   After that, the Park Service mandated that all rangers engaged in law enforcement duties be uniformly armed with standardized equipment, worn on duty-belts, to ensure that firearms and other defensive equipment would be readily accessible.

   

   In about 1975, the Park Service issued some nationwide law enforcement policy in the form of a manual titled "NPS-9." It spelled out the criteria for delegation of law enforcement authority, specific training requirements, and firearms and other defensive equipment. In 1975, the Treasury Department had established the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick, GA. The park rangers were then enrolling in the "basic police school" course. In a few years, the National Park Service working in conjunction with the Treasury Department established the Basic Law Enforcement for Land Management Agencies course. The park rangers would dominate this course in attendance, but in each class would be a few law enforcement officers from the BLM, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

 

   Providing basic law enforcement training to seasonal park rangers would present a unique difficulty. The National Park Service had held their first seasonal law enforcement training school in June 1971 in Harpers Ferry, WV. But the Park Service could hardly afford to send hundreds of seasonal employees either to the FLETC or Harpers Ferry to acquire training. Soon in places like Yosemite National Park, the employees who had already been engaged in law enforcement duties for several seasons were not going to be permitted to continue unless that obtained some basic law enforcement training. In the spring of 1977, four Yosemite seasonal park rangers were hosted by the California State Parks Department in their basic peace officer training at the State Park Academy in Pacific Grove, CA. In March of 1978, the Park Service set up a seasonal law enforcement academy in conjunction with a local junior college in Santa Rosa, CA.

 

   Although the need for greater law enforcement capability was clear in many parks, the conversion of generalist rangers to para-policemen became controversial. Some field level park managers thought the trend to law enforcement specialization went too far and deplored what they saw as an erosion of the traditional ranger image. NPS Director Gary Everhardt encapsulated this attitude in 1976 by saying, "I firmly believe that in some parks the law enforcement speciality has gotten out of balance with other responsibilities of park rangers." The "ranger image" discussions would overshadow and hold back the necessary evolution of the Park Service law enforcement program.

 

   The work of some pro-enforcement rangers in the Washington Office and another ranger who had a temporary detail to a Congressman's office would lead to the modernization of Park Service law enforcement authority. They worked towards drafting a new law that would replace the old outdated section where all of the Park Service employees had the powers of arrest to one where only certain designated employees would have such authority. This 1976 "Authorities Bill" would task such designated employees with maintaining law and order and protecting persons and property within areas of the National Park System. Such employees would have the authority to: carry firearms; make arrests, execute warrants and process; and conduct investigations of offenses against the United States committed in the System.

 

   The National Park Service was among the agencies whose law enforcement efforts were evaluated in the 1977 GAO report on Crime in Federal Recreation Areas - A Serious Problem Needing Congressional and Agency Action. The National Park Service was the only Federal land management agency that was able to provide crime statistics for the report. In the report for the years 1973 to 1975 the National Park Service reported 18 homicides, 65 rapes, 60 robberies, 478 assaults, 2,538 burglaries, 12, 438 larcenies, and 421 auto thefts. This certainly indicated growth in criminal activities on lands within the National Park System. Although, some Park Service officials would report that some parks withheld reports of criminal activity for fear that they might reflect negatively upon the park's operation. Many park rangers had reported that they had made felony arrests for such crimes as murder, rape, larceny, and assault. Eighty-one percent of the park rangers reported that they were carrying firearms while on duty. The Park Service reported they had begun to make available a 400 hour law enforcement training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. However, they reported that such training was not required to be completed prior to assigning a ranger to law enforcement duties. It was further reported that most seasonal park rangers were only being given 1 to 2 weeks of training each year. One park ranger commented on his awareness of the increase in criminal activity on National Park units. He said that in 1962, serious criminal offenses had been virtually unknown. But now he said that the increasing frequency of this criminal activity speaks for itself. He said that in these situations, "No one seems to question the need for the city police or even the state police officers to carry weapons, yet a hue and cry arises when this occurs with the ranger."

 

   Conflicts over the issue of wearing firearms was still not over with. Some field level park managers thought that armed rangers detracted from the "park experience" and conflicted with the "ranger image." In some parks the mandatory policies of the Department of the Interior and the Park Service "NPS-9" were completely ignored. As late as 1978, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park made his own policy that prohibited the park rangers from wearing their firearms during the day. He would only permit them to be worn at night. Some of the park rangers openly defied this policy. Even after they reminded him of the superceding policies of the Department of the Interior, the superintendent insisted on compliance with his own policy.

 

   The Park Service was attempting to provide better education and training on law enforcement issues to their field level managers. The Park Service was the first of the land management agencies to develop a "law enforcement for managers" training course in conjunction with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. At one session of this course in the late 1970s, a discussion arose about the laws and policies that require park rangers to be armed when conducting law enforcement duties. A superintendent openly expressed his defiance to this and said that such a practice would not be permitted in his park. Certainly, the wearing of firearms by park rangers remained inconsistent from one park to the next prior to 1980.

 

   At that point, it should have been clear to all the managers in the Park Service that law enforcement would be a critical part of a designated park ranger's job. But still some felt that rangers who had only been through FLETC and did not constantly do police work were unlikely to be sufficiently trained and mentally prepared to handle difficult police situations. The law enforcement training of rangers also tended to revive the old question about the need for a separate park police force. But in answer to this question, the Park Service would state that rangers were still generalists insufficiently skilled in urban law enforcement to deal with situations handled by the Park Police.

 

  National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management law enforcement efforts were evaluated in the 1982 GAO report on Illegal and Unauthorized Activities on Public Lands - A Problem with Serious Implications. While the Forest Service and the BLM efforts were somewhat criticized in this report, the National Park Service was found to be doing a better job than the Forest Service and BLM in enforcing laws and regulations in park areas in California. The GAO found that the Park Service has a reputation of being a strong and effective law enforcer because they had (1) a definite mission to protect resources and people, (2) its own police force, and (3) experience and expertise proven over time.

 

   Recognition of some park rangers taking on the specialty of law enforcement duties would bring up personnel classification issues. In the 1970s and 1980s, some park rangers that had taken on law enforcement as their primary duties were prohibited by park managers from seeking a job-classification as "criminal investigators" which would have entitled them to be covered under the special law enforcement retirement provisions. The title park ranger was sacrosanct to the Park Service and they believed that all employees in the Park Service were supposed to be park rangers and not criminal investigators.

 

   Two park rangers would pursue classification as "criminal investigators" by filing appeals to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Both would win their case with the OPM, but later lose to the recalcitrant Park Service. One appellant would be restricted to the GS-9 level by the Park Service even though the OPM judged the position to be appropriately graded at GS-11. The other appellant was quickly reassigned to another park ranger job. The actions of these park rangers would stir up a hornet's nest of discussion about what the "ranger image" should be.

 

   Film producer John Philbin would put together a documentary film titled Law of Nature in 1986. The filming was done in Yosemite National Park in the preceding summers. Several Yosemite park rangers were interviewed on the film. Most of them freely admitted that when there is more people, there is more crime. The specific crimes mentioned were, among other things, larceny, burglary, assaults, young people drinking, drug trafficking, and murders. Yosemite was identified as the only national park with a full-time staffed jail and had a staff of "plain-clothes" rangers. Since 'plain-clothes" rangers were basically performing criminal investigator duties, it was one of these park rangers who had filed an appeal and received a successful determination that he should be properly classified as a criminal investigator.

 

   Some of the park rangers interviewed talked about how they were not equipped for law enforcement problems. Research done by Philbin uncovered some Park Service memos. One indicated that in 1974, the wearing of weapons was not allowed and they would only be carried in a briefcase. A 1975 Park Service memo had said that those rangers that wanted to be "law officers" by wearing firearms were not living up to the image and purpose of being a ranger.

 

   After being confronted by the Office of Personnel Management's decision that one of his "plain-clothes" park rangers should be reclassified as a criminal investigator, Park Superintendent Robert Binnewies disbanded the plain-clothes rangers and reassigned them to general park ranger duties, included the one who had succeeded in his appeal. The law enforcement issues at Yosemite would generate such controversy as to trigger a General Accounting Office investigation and other inquiries. Binnewies was removed as the superintendent at Yosemite in January 1986 because of low ranger morale and the long-standing conflict over how major crime investigations are conducted in the park.

 

   The Park Service would overcome much of its struggles over law enforcement in the 1980s. By 1992, they were even ready to implement their first special agent (criminal investigator) positions. The first two were staffed at the Washington Office.

 

   In January 1993, the Park Service Director issued a policy titled Organizational Position on Law Enforcement. The director stated that in order for the Park Service to achieve its mission, the units of the National Park System " . . . must be free of criminal activity that threatens or compromises the ecological health and integrity of protected natural and cultural resources and/or disrupts an atmosphere conducive to public safety and enjoyment."  He described law enforcement in the National Park Service as:

 

The means by which government seeks to insure compliance with, compels obedience to, or identifies and apprehends individuals who violate the laws and regulations enacted for the protection of life, resources, property, public peace, and societal well-being.

 

   The organizational position paper outlined a program that would be comprised of "commissioned" Law Enforcement Rangers, Criminal Investigators, and Special Agents. While this seemed to establish a program of "full time" law enforcement officers, the paper went on to say that law enforcement authority may be vested in positions with less-than-primary law enforcement responsibilities. This to some extent preserved the use of part-time and seasonal law enforcement officers. But the paper concluded with a clear statement that the Park Service is to actively support its "full-time" law enforcement officers in obtaining all the pay, retirement, and other benefits that law enforcement work entitles them to. This was a major change in direction from what had occurred in the 1980s.

 

   A study of park ranger occupational issues was already underway and it appears that this effort had little coordination with the Organizational Position on Law Enforcement document. A "Ranger Futures Steering Committee" was established in January 1992 in response to recommendations of the 75th Anniversary National Park Service Symposium in 1991. The steering committee produced a report titled The Ranger of the Future in April 1993. Despite the importance of law enforcement described by National Park Service Director in the Organizational Position on Law Enforcement document, there was little mention of law enforcement issues in this report. The organizational position document used the title "law enforcement ranger" to refer to those park rangers who were full time law enforcement officers. Yet, the "ranger futures" report referred to them as "resource protection rangers." The organizational position document seemed to imply that law enforcement should be a program with equal status with other Park Service programs. Yet, law enforcement responsibilities were only identified as a sub-component of "resource protection" in the "ranger futures" document. The "ranger futures" document continued to somewhat support a "one size fits all" concept for classifying all Park Service "rangers" into the 025 classification series, regardless of their degree of specialty. They were also continuing to cling to the notion that the core qualifications to be a ranger be formal education in the natural sciences, history, archeology, etc. This despite the findings of the Deputy Director of the National Park Service in 1970 that this may be the wrong recruitment pool for law enforcement officers.

 

   The absence of adequate treatment of law enforcement issues in the "ranger futures" document was quickly identified in the comments sent in from the field units. Some in the field could see that the "resource based" concepts presented in the paper were in conflict with current efforts to seek law enforcement retirement and other benefits for those rangers performing law enforcement full time. In response to the comments, it was stated that the "Ranger Futures" initiative would now be recognizing and acknowledging the organizational need for "benchmark positions descriptions which will provide 20 year retirement eligibility" for law enforcement positions.

 

   One of the products of the "Ranger Futures" initiative was a August 1993 memo from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management. After years of fighting against their park rangers from being determined to be covered by the special law enforcement retirement provisions, the Park Service was now supportive of the issue. Babbitt said in his memo, "Enhanced annuity retirement for our park rangers with primary law enforcement duties is a key ingredient of the Ranger Futures program." Babbitt solicited the support and cooperation of the OPM to bring this to fruition for both past claims and for future designation of covered positions. In 1994, the Park Service issued standard position descriptions with the journey level grade at GS-9 for all of its law enforcement commissioned park rangers. The Park Service designated the positions for "enhanced annuity retirement" under the special law enforcement retirement provisions. By 1995, of the 3,500 national park rangers, 1,500 were commissioned law enforcement rangers.

 

   The Forest Service and the BLM were well used to a great deal of political scrutiny over their multiple use activities and their law enforcement efforts. However, the Park Service seemed to escape most of this, at least until the mid 1990s. The elevation of Congressman James Hansen to chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Lands would change that. Congressman Hansen (and others) introduced the National Park System Reform Act of 1995 in January of that year. Hansen had indicated in an interview with The Journal of the Association of National Park Rangers that he was interested in determining what units of the National Park System may be inconsistent with being in the system and possible de-authorizing such units. He further indicated that after a review of which lands should be retained in federal ownership, that the National Park Service and other federal land management agencies should be merged into a single agency. The National Park System Reform Act had provisions for the creation of a National Park System Review Commission that was intending to carry out this initiative. Congressman Bill Richardson would call the bill a "back door attempt to close parks." But the bill also would stir up other discussions as well. During this period of time several incidents of anti-government activities had occurred, such as the bombing of a BLM office, the burning down of a Forest Service ranger station, the bombing of a forest ranger's car, and other overt threats to officials of the Federal land management agencies. However, most of these had not directly involved the National Park Service. But the issue was ripe for discussion and Ranking Minority Member, Congressman George Miller saw this as his opportunity to make a point. He offered an amendment to the bill for recognizing the indispensable contributions of the park rangers and directing the Park Service to provide a report within 3 years on how it deals with intimidation, threats, assaults, etc. on the rangers. He said in his comments:

 

With escalating frequency, violent crime and criminal behavior is transcending urban boundaries and occurring in our federal parks, making the park ranger's job of law enforcement more difficult and dangerous. Rangers and even their families have become victims of personal threats and acts of violence by fringe parties expressing anti-government sentiments towards the first federal uniform they encounter.

 

   Congressman Don Young objected to Miller's amendment saying that he thought the increase in hostilities against federal employees were a direct result of the lack of sensitivity on the part of the employees. Congressman Tauzin said that he was going to introduce a bill to look at how regulatory agencies coerce the public through implied and veiled threats. Congressman Wes Cooley said that the federal agents have been overstepping their authority and most are untrained and unqualified. He said that the park rangers were not carrying guns 15 years ago and now that they were it was leading to increased hostilities. However, these radical and outrageous statements would not carry the day. The Miller amendment passed by a 31 to 1 margin. This despite the fact that his amendment had little to do with the general purpose of the introduced bill. Apparently the park rangers (and other federal land management officers) had far more support than the "radicals" had anticipated and this off-focus discussion would contribute to the demise of the bill.

 

   In the 1997 GAO report Federal Lands: Information About Law Enforcement Activities, the National Park Service provided that they had a total of 2,107 law enforcement rangers of which 1,465 were permanent employees and 642 were seasonal employees. They had 627 U.S. Park Police. They had 57 criminal investigators and 18 Park Police detectives.

 

   The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 established a Commission on the Advancement of Federal Law Enforcement. The Chairman of the Commission was Judge William H. Webster, former Director of the FBI and former Director of the CIA. The commission held hearings and gathered information about each and every Federal agency that had law enforcement responsibilities. From their study of the agencies, they were to produce recommendations for the future management of Federal law enforcement. In their survey, of all the Federal law enforcement agencies, the Park Service and the Forest Service both scored the highest with a confidence level of 62%. The Commission would recommend a complete realignment of Federal law enforcement under the guidance of the Justice Department. They recommended that the Forest Service, BLM, and Fish and Wildlife Service be combined into an agency referred to as "resource enforcement." However, the Park Service and the Park Police were recommended to be part of an agency referred to as "protection and border security." It appeared that the Commission viewed the Park Service law enforcement mission has being more related to public safety and historic infrastructure (Washington DC monuments) protection. This was contrary to the Park Service's generally belief that their law enforcement efforts were "resource oriented."

 

   Congressional interest in the law enforcement issues in the Park Service did not wane in the next few years. Section 801 0f the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 directed the Park Service, ". . . to fully evaluate the needs, shortfalls and requirements of the law enforcement programs in the National Park Service." In response, the Park Service published their Law Enforcement Study in March 2000. The report stated:

 

The forces of population growth and the pressures of illegal activity threaten park resources as never before. Theft and marketing of artifacts, animal parts, plant life and other illegal commercial activities threaten to bleed away the vital resource base of the parks. Drug smuggling, the movement of undocumented aliens, marijuana cultivation and clandestine drug labs create an unacceptable visitor safety risk in many parks and quietly obliterate natural resources, many of which are irreplaceable.

 

   The Park Service also stated that, "Law enforcement in the parks goes to the core mission of the National Park Service." This presented a very different viewpoint than what had been expressed in the 1970s and 1980s. But in this report, the Park Service choose to refer to their "law enforcement rangers" as "permanent protection rangers." They stated that they currently had on staff 1,483 "permanent protection rangers" and recommended that this number needed to be increased to 2,775.

 

   Two park rangers had been killed in the line of duty in 1998 and 1999. These events had caused additional concern about law enforcement issues. Just prior to the above report, in January 2000, The Director of the National Park Service commissioned a comprehensive law enforcement third party review to be completed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The Director was concerned for the safety of the park rangers and saw indications that the ranger law enforcement program was not supported at a level that would fully protect the rangers, public and park resources. The Policing of the National Parks report was released in October 2000. One interesting finding was that while the Park Service overall staffing had increased 2.5% from 1994 to 1999, the staffing of park rangers had deceased by 8.7%. In the survey that the IACP had conducted, many of the park rangers had regarded that the following of Park Service law enforcement practices and conditions had been unsatisfactory. The IACP said that, "NPS law enforcement can justly be described as a profusion of conditions and practices in search of a system." The report mentioned the possibility of "rejecting the current organization in favor of a more traditional stovepipe form." But they skirted this by saying that the current decentralized organization was keeping with the overall Park Service model and that "radical modification" of the current law enforcement structure was not recommended. Perhaps the most substantial recommendations were to: (1) Create a position of Associate Director for Emergency Services and Law Enforcement; and (2) Increase the number of law enforcement rangers by 615.

 

   The Department of the Interior Inspector General's Office conducted a scathing report titled Disquieting State of Disorder: An Assessment of Department of Interior Law Enforcement in January 2002. The primary issue discussed in the report related to organizational structure in the Department law enforcement programs. The OIG had found that all the agency organizational structures did not comply with the 1997 President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, Quality Standards for Investigations. The standards required investigative organizations to be "free" and "organizationally independent." The Park Service decentralized organization clearly did not meet this standard. The OIG found that the Park Service organization had indeed impaired a required Federal response in the aftermath of the "September 11" terrorist attacks. The Department of the Interior was requested to provide a number of law enforcement officers to be detailed to the FAA to serve as Air Marshals. Because of opposition by their regional offices, the Park Service was recalcitrant in responding and in the end provided only 3 officers out of their 2.700 rangers and park police. The substantial recommendations made by the OIG in regards to the Park Service law enforcement organization were: (1) establish a Senior Executive Service level Director of Law Enforcement and staff it with an experienced law enforcement professional; (2) immediately restructure the reporting system for Special Agents to create line law enforcement authority; and (3) for all remaining law enforcement officers (park rangers), develop strategic plans for the transition to centralized management systems that report to the Park Service Director of Law Enforcement.    

 

   The Recommendations to the Secretary for Implementing Law Enforcement Reforms was issued in July 2002. In this report, the Secretary of the Interior approved and required some changes to the Park Service organization that had been recommended by the OIG. The Park Service had already established a "Chief Ranger of the National Park Service" who would be a commissioned law enforcement officer and be in charge of the overall law enforcement program. Then the special agents were reorganized to report in law enforcement line authority to this position. However, the Park Service made no proposal to re-organize its law enforcement rangers in the field whatsoever.


   In the case of the Forest Service, the GAO had studied the issue of supervision for their field law enforcement officers in 1993 and had concluded:

The law enforcement officer is often the first to detect potential criminal violations within our National Forests. We believe that independence may be lost when a line manager responsible for resource programs supervises a law enforcement officer who is uncovering information that might lead to an investigation of criminal activity.

   Forest Service law enforcement officers being supervised by non-law enforcement forest managers was not really that different from law enforcement park rangers being supervised by non-law enforcement park managers. But the Park Service would remain unchanged on this issue.


   Over 95 years have passed since the National Park Service was created. Law enforcement was an essential component of protecting the parks in the early days. Law enforcement would never really lose its importance over the years. It just ended up with other park functions competing with it. But attitudes and personal preferences about law enforcement would play a part in creating turmoil and in some cases created failures in Park Service law enforcement efforts. But in just a few years prior to the beginning of the 21st Century, the Park Service seems to have gotten its law enforcement act together.


   A comprehensive history of National Park Service law enforcement can be found in U.S. Rangers, Law of the Land, The History of Law Enforcement in the Federal Land Management Agencies, Paul D. Berkowitz, Herndon, VA, January 1995.