US Park Police union details dangerous conditions, demands staffing increase

The U.S. Park Police union believes the department doesn’t have enough staff or support from the National Park Service to do its job. The complaint was made public Thursday in a letter detailing the agency’s response to recent extreme weather.

“Park Service leadership should be ashamed of their reckless negligence for public safety,” Chair of the U.S. Park Police Fraternal Order of Police Ken Spencer stated.

The letter — addressed to the department’s acting chief and copied to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s Congressional delegate — details issues Spencer said are long-standing and limit the department’s ability to function adequately in the D.C. region.

“The continued reckless neglect by the Department of Interior and the National Park Service has reached crisis levels,” he said.

A USPP spokesperson told WTOP in an email that the department is reviewing the letter. And, referencing the incidents detailed in the letter that took place between 6 p.m. on July 2 and into the morning of July 3, the spokesperson stated that supervisors worked to manage resources as efficiently as possible during severe weather that strained emergency response resources across the region.

Describing the departmental response, Spencer said that with roads becoming impassable and motorists getting stranded by downed trees and flooding, an understaffed cohort of Park Police officers struggled to keep up with calls for service at great risk to themselves and the public; they were unable to make proper road closures to ensure public safety; outside support from partner law enforcement was extremely limited; response from NPS tree and maintenance crews was near nonexistent; the tow truck and crane provider AnA Towing did not respond to calls, the letter states.

“The USPP mission was severely damaged due to the lack of NPS support. Officers attempted to contact multiple NPS entities during this emergency — to no avail,” Spencer said.

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

Spencer said the contracted NPS tow trucks not being available is a long-running issue leaving officers either stranded with broken down cruisers or left in dangerous roadside conditions, with wrecks needing to be cleared from crash scenes.

He states multiple officers have been injured in those situations by passing vehicles. Spencer describes an officer awaiting tow service for a disabled vehicle being transported to the hospital July 3, with “a serious head injury” after his patrol car was struck.

“The USPPFOP has alerted the agency of the hazards produced by our current crane situation for over two years, yet nothing has been done to rectify the situation. This lack of attention is blatant and purposeful neglect at this point as two more officers were struck and injured waiting for cranes on top of the ones who have already been injured in the past. The National Park Service is responsible for their injuries and should be held accountable for this glaring safety hazard they have created for our officers,” Spencer said.

Regarding what he called dire staffing levels, Spencer stated the department has fewer officers now than in 1975.

“Radical changes to our pay, recruitment incentives and retention efforts must happen now. Please convey the events in this letter to the attention of NPS management and personnel within the Department of Interior legislative affairs office,” Spencer said.

“Help us by bringing our situation to light with people who can take measures to make sweeping changes and put us on equal footing with partner federal law enforcement agencies. Nights like July 3 will continue to occur and will only get worse if something doesn’t change.”

WTOP has reached out to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and D.C. elected officials for comment.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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