Working as a park ranger in Columbia, Missouri is no small task. According to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the agency manages more than 3,000 acres of park land and helps sustain the operation of over 80 parks, recreation facilities, and open green spaces. The area is home to the sprawling 533-acre Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area along with seven distinctive trails including:
- MKT Nature/Fitness Trail
- Bear Creek Trail
- Hinkson Creek Trail
- County House Trail
- Hominy Creek Trail
- Scott’s Branch Trail
- South Providence Trail
With so much ground to cover, one might assume the Parks and Recreation Department had several park rangers on its staff. Yet, in reality it only has two full-time rangers. So when they recently lost their police powers for two months, it left them with more limited authority and therefore, less able to protect themselves and the public.
In an article published by the Columbia Daily Tribune on September 28, one of the department’s park rangers, Rosanna Johnson, remarked that the decision to relinquish rangers’ law enforcement capabilities negatively affected working conditions by:
- Restricting rangers’ job to merely writing parking tickets
- Only allowing rangers to arm themselves with pepper spray
- Prohibiting rangers’ right to arrest citizens
While the rangers are once again armed, they haven’t gotten back the privilege to respond to 911 calls placed within the parks. Even though Johnson claims that park rangers had previously answered 44% of the parks department’s 911 calls, police officials are insisting that rangers receive additional training before regaining that privilege.
Just like all law enforcement officers in Columbia, park rangers are required to successfully pass the Missouri Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training certification program as well as complete police academy training. As such, commissioning park rangers to use police force potentially alleviates an overworked and understaffed police department.