WASHINGTON - August 30 - Despite assurances that its force level remains steady, the number of officers in the U.S. Park Police has fallen to its lowest level in more than a dozen years, according to an internal document released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, assaults against U.S. Park Police officers have reached a record high.
According to internal records showing force levels from January through August, the number of sworn officers has dropped down to 601. This number also includes 12 recruits who are not qualified for active duty. The current force level of 601 officers is significantly down from a high of 639 officers in 1999. The number is also substantially short of the officially recommended force level of 806 officers by the National Park Service back in 2000.
By way of contrast, the U.S. Park Police, which is responsible for D.C. monuments, parks and parkways, the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge and Camp David perimeter security, among other duties, has less than half the sworn officers of the U.S. Capitol Police, which is responsible for only an 11 block area.
In public statements following this summer’s crime sprees on the National Mall, U.S. Park Police officials contended that the force was holding steady at 625 officers, the number given in its annual report for 2005. In fact, Park Police internal records showed the number of officers has been falling steadily since February and the actual numbers were substantially below those cited in official statements.
Even as the National Mall has been plagued by high-profile crimes, attacks against U.S. Park Police officers have risen more than 10% in just the past year. According to documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. Park Police recorded 56 attacks against its officers in 2005, of which18 resulted in injury to the officer, versus 50 such assaults in 2004.
In 2004, U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers was fired for admitting staff shortages in an interview with The Washington Post. Chambers’ case appeal, filed in December 2004, is still awaiting decision.
“Recent events have more than validated the statements by Chief Chambers,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that despite added homeland security responsibilities, the U.S. Park Police has actually fewer officers than it did on 9/11. “The U.S. Park Police desperately needs a leader who can forcefully advocate for the resources her officers require.”
Park Police force levels are likely to drop even lower as a recent training class had to be cancelled due to lack of funds. In addition, more retirements and departures are expected this fall.
“I know one new officer who could be added immediately,” Ruch concluded. “The new Secretary of Interior could restore Chief Chambers with a stroke of the pen.”