According to one longtime former employee in the Maine state park system, park rangers are currently allowed to request lawbreakers cease a specific activity but are not allowed to issue summonses to those individuals.
Tim Caverly, who served as a park ranger for 32 years and was the supervisor of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, hopes a bill — LD 527 — corrects what he says is a dangerous situation, allowing for the law enforcement training of park managers and certain staffers.
That bill was discussed Thursday afternoon at a public hearing before the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
The bill seeks to require a program that must include (but is not limited to): training in self-defense, the use of nonlethal self-defense equipment, the use of motor vehicle emergency lights, requesting identification from people, the issuance of summonses, and arresting and detaining people when there is probable cause to believe the person has committed or is committing a crime. Maine manages 48 state parks and historic sites.
Three people testified in favor of the bill, while one — Bureau of Parks and lands director Tom Desjardin — testified against it. Another offered his perspective as a law enforcement officer but testified neither for nor against LD 527. The bill will now move on to a work session which has yet to be scheduled.
Last week, Caverly explained that he was troubled by the situation at state parks under the control of the Bureau of Parks and Lands because park rangers could only “request” visitors to stop breaking the law in state parks, and did not have the power to issue a summons to those individuals.
In written testimony to the committee, Caverly outlined some of his concerns.
“Our parks are a place where families and friends still gather, but may remain unaware there is little protection provided by untrained and unauthorized ranger staff,” Caverly wrote.
In addition, Caverly said that in a state park system that hosted 3 million visitors in 2018, a dangerous situation exists.
“For a bureaucracy to claim that serious enforcement does not exist or may be resolved by calling another remotely located department is either naive or is information being promoted by an administration intentionally providing false information,” he wrote. “Today, our park leaders seem more interested in ducking, dodging, and darting to keep their jobs rather than [to] ensure staff have the training and equipment to provide public safety and resource protection.”
Rep. Thomas Skolfield (R-Weld), a former state park ranger, introduced the bill and explained that while he and his fellow rangers were trained at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and were prepared for any eventual crisis that might crop up, that’s not the case now.
He said over the past decade or so, the focus on multitasking to include law enforcement responsibilities has lapsed.
“Law enforcement was, and continues to be one of the many hats that a park officer is required to wear,” Skolfield said.
Matt McGuire of Naples, who is the manager of the Sebago Lake State Park, but who testified on his own behalf — not speaking for the Bureau of Parks and Lands — said he received a combined state park and forest ranger training in 2002, but said all training for state park employees in law enforcement practices ceased in 2011.
Desjardin, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands, testified against the bill on behalf of the bureau and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
He said the bureau has already scheduled a park manager training for September that will address all but two of the enforcement responsibilities mandated in the bill.
Desjardin said the bureau wants rangers to de-escalate situations when possible, and said the official bureau policy from 2013 prohibits rangers from undertaking law enforcement responsibilities.
The final two requirements of the bill, dealing with the issuance of summonses and the detainment of people, create extra problems and are the real sticking points, he said.
The follow-up to the issuance of a summons may well require a court appearance by a park ranger, who often will only work for the state park for the busy summer months. If that case goes to court after the park season, the ranger will likely not be available to be in court, Desjardin said.
“We’re not even sure we have a legal ability to bring the person back into our employment for one day [to go to court],” Desjardin said.
And when it comes to detainment, Desjardin said parks neither have the facilities nor vehicles to efficiently detain anyone.