As my company privately operates public parks, our employees are often taking over from state park rangers who have law enforcement credentials. When we propose our services, we often get pushback on this issue — how are we going to live without all these law enforcement officers with arrest powers and guns and badges in the parks?
The answer I give is: Things will be better. It is an enormous mistake to handle customer service problems with a badge and gun and hard-ass attitude, but that is often what happens in parks. You don’t see McDonald’s issuing citations to their customers, but state parks organizations do it all the time.
It turns out that the reason there are so many law enforcement officers in parks has nothing to do with demand — with very few exceptions, the parks we operate all require fractions of an FTE of law enforcement. Maybe 20 hours a year per park. But there are huge incentives for state workers to get a law enforcement license. Beyond the psychic advantages of having a gun and badge, they typically qualify for a much richer law enforcement pension plan. Park supervisors don’t care — the extra benefits don’t come out of their budgets.