Cops Chide Cuomo for 'Toy Soldier' Hiring
A plan to hire several dozen junior-grade Park Forest Rangers to supplement State Park Police this summer has sparked a turf battle, with the police union charging the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo with trying to hire "toy soldiers" in place of experienced officers, the Albany Times Union reported.
The move to hire largely seasonal Park Forest Rangers as police officers "will result in decreased public safety and increased liability to the state," according to a letter that leaders of the Park Police union, the PBA of New York State, handed out to lawmakers.
Noting that the ranks of full-fledged park police have fallen to 200 statewide from 300 over the past five years, the union says the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Recreation is pursuing a stopgap measure when it should instead beef up the ranks.
According to the union, parks wants to hire about 40 rangers, provide them with a basic four-week peace officer training course and put them in busy downstate parks in the New York City area and Long Island.
None of the rangers are supposed to be deployed as police upstate, according to the letter.
The union points out that Park Forest Rangers have traditionally worked maintaining trails, running education programs and controlling fires. They have historically gotten full law enforcement training, which would include crowd control, dealing with gangs, making arrests or driving emergency vehicles.
They would be placed in parks with more urban problems, including gang activity and large disturbances.
The parks office maintains that using the rangers is an efficient way to help police the sites. And they note that they are training new officers for the first time in several years.
"(Park) Forest Rangers are part of a multifaceted solution to ensure state parks remain safe," Parks spokesman Randy Simons said in an email.
"This includes holding the first park police academy in five years, which will graduate a new class of officers in May, expanding the use of state park forest rangers to support public safety as well as the assistance of 100-plus seasonal Public Safety Rangers," he said. "The rangers are an efficient way to provide support to the permanent park police force in the peak season, when park visitation is at its highest."
The protest is the first of its kind for the relatively new PBA of NYS, which comprises Park and SUNY campus police as well as Park Rangers and Department of Environmental Conservation police.
The new organization broke away from Council 82 in 2011, expressing unhappiness over contract talks with the governor's office.