Violence against Park Police on the rise

In the years Officer Gary Hatch has patrolled the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, he's been kicked in the shins and pushed and has engaged in a fistfight that bloodied his nose. It's a record he laments.

"I was involved in, like, six or seven really good fights last year," said Hatch, vice chairman of the U.S. Park Police Fraternal Order of Police. "I tased a guy twice."

Violence against Park Police, rangers and other employees at national parks, forests and wildlife refuges is on the rise, according to a group that represents federal workers.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility found a 43 percent jump in violent incidents against Park Police in 2012. The 100 recorded cases were the most since the advocacy group began tracking such data in 1995.

Before then, said Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, the problem was largely overlooked by the agencies that oversee the Park Police, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ruch says PEER publishes the data to get the agencies to pay attention. "Most of the agencies did not even track this," he said.

Lt. Mark Reaves, a Park Police spokesman, said the agency is taking the report seriously and that the Department of the Interior, which oversees several of the agencies, is reviewing it.

"I think that's where we start," Reaves said.

Park Police officers patrol the parkway and have jurisdiction on all National Park Service land. Maryland is home to 17 national parks and many more park service sites, including Fort McHenry, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Assateague National Seashore.

The PEER study found a 12 percent increase in acts of violence in national parks. On Jan. 1, 2012, Ranger Margaret Anderson, 34, was shot and killed while trying to stop a suspect in Mount Rainier National Park. She had formerly worked at the C&O; Canal National Historical Park.

Explanations for the increase in violence differ from agency to agency, Ruch said. Workers say the problem stems in part from a growing use of public lands for meth labs and marijuana plantations.

The Park Police is largely an urban force, patrolling national parkland in Washington, New York and San Francisco. Like park rangers, they patrol with just one officer per car, said Ian Glick, the union chairman.

"When you have fewer officers who are visible, people who are on the fence about acting out violently tend to get more comfortable with the idea of fighting," Glick said. "If it's one against one, if you will, people who are apt to fight are more likely to fight."

Some of the increase in violence against Park Police was attributable to the Occupy DC demonstrations, Glick said.

Only the most serious incidents — those in which someone was charged — were included in the data provided reported to PEER under public information requests.

"A lot of times we don't charge people because it doesn't fit the qualifications of being an assault," said Glick, who has been in law enforcement for 23 years. "There's almost a cultural expectation that officers are going to get hit by someone.

"Anyone who has been on [the force] for five years or more has been assaulted once or twice. I had a guy try to push another officer into traffic on the B-W Parkway."

Of the 100 violent incidents against the U.S. Park Police in 2012, 98 occurred in the District of Columbia or Virginia. One was in Maryland, where a driver stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated got into a fight with the officer.

"There's definitely a lot more attitude of defiance," Hatch said. "You pull people over and they say, 'Yeah, what?'

"Or you go to put them in handcuffs and they want fight you."

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