Urban Rangers: Look, Smell Just Like Cops

But they don't get guns.

Move over, Smokey Bear: Seattle will soon have seven new urban rangers roaming its downtown parks. These newly minted city employees will be decked out with summer and winter uniforms (total cost: $11,415), bikes ($11,240), a Ford Super Duty F-350 complete with custom-built security cabinets and canopy (total cost: $50,400), an office ($10,300), more than $7,000 in training each, and about $50,000 apiece in wages and benefits. With more people living downtown, Mayor Greg Nickels wants to make central city parks safer, but the rangers aren't meant to be cops. According to the mayor's proposal, the rangers are supposed "to provide a friendly, welcoming presence" and educate people on park rules and regulations. After turning down Nickels' idea for rangers last year, the City Council relented and approved $462,000 in the 2008 budget for a pilot program creating five full-time and two part-time positions. It's not clear yet what kind of training the rangers will get, but it will likely involve first aid and glad-handing. "They will essentially be ambassadors," says Nickels' spokesperson, Marty McOmber. "They will provide an additional set of eyes and ears for the parks." Parks getting rangers include: Pier 62-63, Waterfront Park, City Hall Park, Freeway Park, the International District's Hing Hay Park, Lake Union Park, Occidental Square, Victor Steinbrueck Park, Westlake Park, and Capitol Hill's Cal Anderson Park. The mayor says he considered size, location, crime, and relative use when selecting which parks to patrol. Conspicuously missing, however, is Denny Park, a sketchy patch of land between Dexter and Westlake that the steadily gentrifying South Lake Union neighborhood has been trying to clean up for years. (McOmber says he doesn't know why that park didn't make the cut.) Council member Richard McIver, who chairs the council's budget committee, isn't too hip to the ranger idea, noting that the proposal ignores parks in the city's northern and southern extremities. "It's great that we're creating a residential neighborhood downtown," he says, "but we have other residential neighborhoods that deserve parks that are as safe as downtown neighborhoods." If the program survives beyond its current two-year expiration date, McOmber says the mayor is open to placing rangers outside the downtown core. If the rangers encounter trouble, they will issue citations to park scofflaws, but will be instructed to call police if any serious malfeasance arises, a scenario that makes McIver—who says he would've rather hired more police officers—a little nervous. "I don't want them out there by themselves mediating disputes," he says. Indeed the rangers will be unarmed, but with their snazzy uniforms and custom ride, perhaps they could use a similarly snappy acronym. Since some of the parks are near the route of the SLUT (originally called the South Lake Union Trolley before the acronym gained popularity and led the powers-that-be to swap the "trolley" for "streetcar"), we suggest "PIMPS"—for Park Improvement Personnel, of course.

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