By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The shouted command, “Stop, park ranger,” just doesn’t carry the same authority as “Stop, police.”
For that reason and others, the Wood County Park District’s rangers asked the park board Tuesday to change their title from rangers to police officers.
The park board voted unanimously to do so.
In the past, the county park rangers had law enforcement and maintenance roles. That has changed, and the rangers now perform strictly law enforcement duties.
The park rangers are certified Ohio Peace Officers, and the name change would clarify their authority.
“In making this change, we are hoping to clarify exactly what we do as certified peace officers working in the park district, and to help our employees, visitors and neighbors feel more secure while being in or near our properties,” the rangers’ proposal stated.
“As rangers, we constantly encounter people who have no idea what a park ranger is or that we are law enforcement officers,” the proposal continued. “We have had people question our need for carrying a gun, if we have the same authority as law enforcement, and challenge us when we try to enforce park rules and laws.”
The rangers also said when working with multiple agencies and dispatchers, it takes time to explain their authority. When rangers formally make a criminal charge in court, they sometimes have to remind court employees that they are certified peace officers.
“We believe that because of the public’s inability to distinguish exactly what we are or what we do, eventually an incident may escalate the need for force and thus escalate the liability of the park district,” their proposal stated.
Wood County Park District Director Neil Munger said Delaware County’s park system has changed the title of its rangers to police.
“It clears up any vagueness to what their responsibility is,” Munger said.
Ranger Mark Reef agreed. “This is so the public can identify that we have law enforcement authority.”
Toledo Metroparks still refers to its officers as rangers, according to Scott Carpenter, head of public relations for the metroparks.
“We like them being called rangers,” Carpenter said, adding that the officers do more than protect people, by also looking out for nature. Carpenter also noted that all national parks are patrolled by park rangers, not park police.
Wood County Park District Chief Ranger Todd Nofzinger said the name change will not change the rangers’ roles.
“It doesn’t change what we do. It doesn’t change our daily duties,” Nofzinger said.
Board member Sandy Wiechman had a few logistical questions, but was told the name change would not require any additional training or radio changes.
“It’s been a long time coming, and they deserve it,” she said.
There will be an expense of about $4,000, to change markings on vehicles, badges, paperwork and patches.
In 2012, the rangers presented a proposal that would replace their shotguns with AR-15 semi-automatic rifles. They asserted that the weapons, in addition to providing less legal liability than the shotguns if fired, would also be more practical when rangers are required to dispatch rabid animals and would also serve rangers better in cases of a possible active shooter situation.
The park board at the time did not approve that request.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the park district board decided to move forward with just the first phase of the wetlands project with the Black Swamp Conservancy. The first phase will transform 10 acres of farmland at the Carter Historic Farm into wetlands.
Munger recommended just moving with the first phase for the wetlands, and possibly turning another 10 acres into wet prairie – which is a less expensive venture.
Initially, the district was considering two phases of wetlands, of 10 acres each. However, Munger said the costs are coming in much higher than the original estimates. Instead of costing about $200,000, the first phase is estimated to be about $400,000.
“I really want to hold off and see where things fall,” Munger said.
The bulk of the costs will be paid for through a grant secured by the Black Swamp Conservancy.
In other business, the board decided to contract out for the construction of a gravel parking lot at the new archery range. The lowest bid of $18,444 from Eric Palmer was accepted.
The board also accepted a bid for siding the barn along the Slippery Elm Trail in Rudolph. The barn is used to store equipment needed on the trail. The lowest bid of $7,500 from Dunipace Buildings was accepted.