Oct. 03--A consultant recommends that Metro Parks consider creating an armed police force to patrol parks or contract or rely on local law enforcement to respond to calls in the parks.
Voorhees Associates of Chicago conducted risk assessments and interviewed park rangers and managers. The consultant determined that the parks are vulnerable to indiscriminate or targeted shootings, or someone driving into park visitors.
The consultant gave the district seven options to consider. Arming the 18 full-time rangers is one of the options, but Voorhees did not recommend it.
Metro Parks officials have repeatedly rejected rangers' requests to arm themselves to protect themselves and park visitors.
The report does recommend other options, including establishing a "Metro Park District Police" that could include some current rangers. That option could increase costs for the district.
Another option would be to disband the current commissioned ranger program, replace them with a "guest services" staff and contract with local police.
While the district would save more the $1.5 million in personnel costs, it would also have pay for the new contracts with local police.
Doing nothing is another option, but the consultant said that could lead to lawsuits.
Tracy Rader, staff representative of the Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Labor Council, which represents the rangers, said the Metro Parks rangers already received firearms training.
"They're law enforcement officers. Arm them," she said.
The Voorhees report notes that the U.S. Forest Service and California State Parks arms their rangers, as do Cleveland Metroparks, Toledo Metro Parks, and Five Rivers Metro Parks in Dayton.
The report said the Greenway Trails "provide a unique risk exposure in terms of safety for both rangers and the public."
It suggested emergency call towers with video cameras and possibly hiring a private security firm to monitor the security system when Metro Parks personnel are not on duty.
The report will officially presented to parks commissioners and staff at the next Metro Parks board meeting on Tuesday. No action on the recommendations is expected then, said parks spokeswoman Peg Hanley.
Metro Parks paid the consultant $32,514 for the study.
Copyright 2013 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio