New Rangers Can’t Write Tickets or Carry Guns

Waving to the homeless permitted.

"Wildlife has a whole different meaning," says Seattle city park ranger Corby Christensen as he walks the perimeter of Capitol Hill's Cal Anderson Park. The forest green-and-khaki-clad rangers may look like they're dressed to ward off bears and mountain lions, but when Christensen, a retired cop from Boise, and partner Brock Milliern start their daily duties, their first task is to wake up homeless people in the city's parks. "We make sure they're asleep and not in some other realm," Christensen says. (If they're merely sleeping, that doesn't violate city code. But if they're camped out, the rangers will tell them to move along.) Seattle's seven new park rangers have been on the job for about a month. Last year, the city council budgeted $462,000 per annum for the three-year pilot program, which includes more than $10,000 for uniforms, about $50,000 each in wages and benefits, and, eventually, a hybrid SUV. For now, though, the truck's on order, and the rangers are rocking an old GMC Sonoma—a hand-me-down from Parks—and a minivan. "We look pretty tough riding around in [the minivan]," jokes Milliern, who once worked as a ranger at Deception Pass State Park. On the job, Milliern and Christensen say they've been asked about fishing licenses and ski conditions by people mistaking them for more traditional forest rangers. And though the rangers receive training on how to de-escalate conflict, they've had no weapons training. "We're armed with charm, wit, and sophistication," says Christensen. "So far that's gotten us through it." Not only do they not carry guns, the rangers can't even write tickets. Originally the city considered giving them citation power, but, says Parks spokeswoman Malia Langworthy, "The focus now is on making them as effective and successful as possible" in their current capacity as a watchful eye to make parks safe and comfortable for citizens. "This job is a big PR job," adds Christensen. "It's an opportunity to make people feel good." He says they work closely with the Seattle Police Department, and if there's a citation needed, the cops are just a radio call away. Down at Victor Steinbrueck Park, a homeless man is sleeping with his gear spread out in the grass. The rangers approach. "Hey guy, how are you doing?" Christensen says, tapping the gray-haired man on the shoulder. "Can't have you here." The man gets up, grabs his things, and says "OK" before hurrying away. As we round the park, the rangers wave to and greet homeless men sitting on the benches. Christensen explains that if the park were busier, and their stuff took up space where people may want to sit, he might say something—but not now. The rangers ensure that people aren't breaking laws: drinking, doing drugs, or letting their dogs run wild in the parks. So far, they say, the biggest problem they've encountered is a turf war between crack smokers and beer drinkers. Says Christensen: "We end up playing referee when fights break out."

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