Public Recreation Fail: Providing Customer Service with Law Enforcement

One of the issues that comes up a lot when we discuss private operation of parks is law enforcement.  For a variety of reasons, most state park rangers are also law enforcement officials.  In fact, in many state parks organizations, one could not advance far in the state parks hierarchy without a badge.

So, do state parks need to have what is essentially the highest local law enforcement officer density of any spot in the country? The answer, with a few exceptions, is generally no.  Our company operates scores of parks where sensible rules enforcement combined with backup from a local sheriff is more than sufficient to keep recreators safe.  And that is the point of public recreation — to give the public a fun, safe outdoors experience.  The point is not to concentrate the public on public lands in order for law enforcement to more carefully monitor their behavior so as to identify infractions.

One reason most park staff have law enforcement credentials is not due to demand, but due to incentives.  Law enforcement certification increases pay, opens up promotion opportunities, and in most states allows access to much more lucrative pension plans.  Some people also get psychic benefits from carrying a gun and a badge.

Though this is not the type of article I generally expect to see at The Frisky, but Julie Gerstein has a interesting piece called, “I Went Camping, And All I Got Was Harassed By The Police.” As I tell my clients all the time, providing customer service with law enforcement officials has more downsides than just cost.

Update: I edited out some details from the original post that referred to specific parks in which we operate.  While these details came from public, online review sites rather than from our insider knowledge, upon reflection I have decided it was not professional to discuss problems in the partnerships we are a part of.  The agency referenced is in many ways more advanced and innovative than most any other recreation agency we deal with.  Focusing just on this one issue, where I disagree with their approach, left an impression about that agency’s overal competance which I did not mean to convey