Portland, OR – The City of Portland is nearly doubling its number of unarmed, unsworn Parks and Recreation rangers as part of a plan to curb a surge of gun violence, but has no intentions of send any additional funding to the city’s police force.
The nearly $6 million plan was unanimously passed by the Portland City Council with little community input on Wednesday, Willamette Week reported.
In their effort to combat gun violence, the city commissioners opted to dump $1.4 million into Portland Parks and Recreation (PPR) so they can hire more unarmed, unsworn park rangers to serve as “goodwill ambassadors,” according to Willamette Week.
“They are eyes on the ground, ensuring that our parks remain welcoming public spaces—and calling in police to intervene should violent situations arise,” the commissioners said of the PPR rangers.
PPR currently employs 24 full-time rangers year-round, with another 11 positions during the summer, KPTV reported.
PPR will be able to hire another 24 rangers under the commissioners’ new plan.
According to the PPR’s spokesperson, rangers are trained in de-escalation techniques, anti-bias, first aid, and crisis interaction, KPTV reported.
They are authorized to enforce city code related to park rule violations.
They also often help connect homeless people living in the parks to social service programs, KPTV reported.
A PPR manager claimed the agency’s workers are skilled and capable of helping to curb Portland’s problems with gun violence.
Portland for Positive Impact founder Randy Philbrick said boosting the number of PPR rangers won’t do much to deter crime, but that it will put the unarmed rangers at risk.
“I know the level of respect they won’t get as we’ve already seen this week with a couple park rangers getting a Taser pulled on them,” Philbrick told KPTV. “We’re setting these guys up for failure.”
Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 483 organizer Ted Bryan shared similar concerns, and noted that “there has been an increased sense of hostility toward city employees” over the past year, Willamette Week reported.
“We are worried by the number of assaults, attempted assaults, threats and harassment toward parks staff, including rangers,” Bryan said.
He said that the city council needs to at least provide PPR rangers with body armor in order to “protect them from projectiles and stab threats.”
“Our presence in uniform may act as a deterrent for behavior that is inappropriate in parks—however, for some members of the public, the presence of uniformed city employees inspires a hostile reaction,” Bryan told the commissioners, according to Willamette Week.
“We are not authorized, trained or equipped to intervene in violent situations, and certainly not in situations involving gun violence,” he added. “We ask you to take this into account when considering the kinds of situations to which rangers may be safely and appropriately deployed.”
Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty recently said the main purpose for the increased number of PPR rangers is just to make people feel like they are safer, not to have the rangers actually act as police, Willamette Week reported.
“The mayor asked me: ‘What are park rangers going to do if somebody starts shooting?’” Hardesty told the news outlet. “I said, ‘They’re going to call 911.’ No way do we want park rangers intervening. If somebody pulls out their gun, they’d better call 911.”
In addition to beefing up the city’s unsworn parks and recreation force, the Portland city commissioners voted to dole out a staggering $4.1 million to various community outreach programs, KPTV reported.
The city will also add seven investigator positions to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
The PPB will be left to work with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to “shift resources” in order to tackle gun violence issues under the plan.