According to officials in Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, the region has been in need of a park ranger program for years now. Budgetary concerns and prioritization, however, have made such a program impossibility until now. The council passed a 2015 county operating budget of just over $839 million, $400,000 of which will go toward the new park ranger program.
Council members with the County gave county executive Rich Fitzgerald approval in December to begin implementing a ranger program that would provide dedicated personnel to the county’s park system and allow county police to discontinue patrolling the parks in order to focus their law enforcement efforts in other parts of the area where they are needed more.
Detective Richard Unser of the county police union says that there has been resistance from the union for years against implementing a ranger program to replace police officers in the park system which was also part of the reason that approval for the program was so long in coming. However, Unser says that the priorities of the police union have changed over the last few years and that a new perspective among members sees the parks as a lower priority relative to the needs of citizens in other areas. Unser says that while county police will be gradually phased out of park patrol in favor of the new rangers, they will still maintain a presence in the parks, mostly during major park events and the like.
County Executive Fitzgerald stated that hiring park rangers for the county will ultimately prove to be advantageous for county police as they will be freed up to investigate crimes. He emphasized that the phasing out of union officers will not result in any layoffs. The initial stages of the program, which will be launched in January, call for four park rangers to help with its development.
Additional ranger will be hired in the spring with an additional $500,000 in federal grants expected to help pay ranger salaries.