This past week two reports were released recommending a major overhaul of the California Parks system. Each report acknowledge the historical difficulties with antiquated systems for budgeting and tracking expenditures and other data to make the system cost effective. But two of the recommendations, creating a non-peace officer career path for Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) management and the creation of a non-peace officer ranger classification are speculative as to whether they will enhance recruitment and retention, reduce costs, and not increase the risk to public safety.
Creation of a Non-Peace Officer Parks Manager Classification
The California State Parks system is comprised of 279 units divided amongst 25 districts which are overseen by District Superintendents. The superintendent classification requires certification from the California Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) either upon hire/promotion or within twelve (12) months thereafter. In districts where the superintendent is a CEA/non-peace officer, a sworn Public Safety Superintendent is assigned the responsibility of the district's chief law enforcement officer. This model ensures that the peace officer rangers, lifeguard rangers and supervising rangers report to a manager in their district who is also a peace officer, thereby preserving a chain of law enforcement command.
The proposal to create a non-peace officer Park Manager is purportedly necessary to increase promotional opportunities to the highest ranking park officials to non peace officers. Historically, these positions have been filled by peace officers and the California Research Bureau (CRB), relying on analyses from the Little Hoover Commission (LRC), claims that peace officer managers are too rigid and authoritarian without the skill sets necessary to adapt to a new operating model of shared management and innovation.
- How would DPR deploy non-sworn Park Managers in the park system? Would non-sworn park managers supervise or manage peace officers? How would that impact law enforcement training and chain of command?
- Would peace officers promoting from the lower law enforcement classifications be required to relinquish their badges and peace officer retirement benefits? If so, how would that effect recruitment of law enforcement personnel into these positions?
Creation of a Non-Peace Officer Generalist Ranger Classification
The Fiscal Year 2014-15 budget authorized 662 peace officers, (17%) percent of the total number of positions in the department: 365 rangers, 96 supervising rangers, 69 lifeguards, 18 supervising lifeguards and 113 superintendents. Despite repeated requests, State Parks has not provided the current percentage of vacancies in the ranger and lifeguard ranger classifications. The CRB notes the 2012 finding of the LHC that the high vacancy rates that have existed over time is in part due to rangers leaving for jobs with higher salaries outside the department but also allegedly due to the requirement that rangers be POST certified. Unless this claim is based on the failure of a small percentage of cadets to graduate from the POST academy, it makes little sense that rangers who had already obtained their POST certificate would be leaving DPR because of the obligation to maintain their certificate, thereby contributing to the ongoing retention problem.
The CRB contends that the creation of a generalist ranger classification "could" reduce the state's costs to operate the park system. The report suggests that the non-law enforcement nature of the generalist ranger position would allow DPR to provide a lesser retirement benefit than that provided to law enforcement rangers. Rangers hired after January 1, 2013 who have no prior CalPERS service are entitled to be paid 2.5% for each year of service when they reach 57 years of age. It is unclear whether CRB is advocating that generalist rangers receive the mid-range benefit provided to classifications like state Conservationists who receive 2% for each year of service at age 57 or that provided to miscellaneous employees, like government analysts who are eligible for 2% at age 62. In either case, it is unclear from the report how much the state would be saving in its retirement contribution if they provided a lesser benefit to generalist rangers.
The report is silent on whether the salary paid to generalist rangers would be less than that provided to law enforcement rangers. The potential job duties that could be performed by generalist ranger outlined in the report are giving tours, training and managing volunteers and seasonal staff, creating park programming, managing resources and providing information to visitors which are less dangerous than traditional enforcement-type activities. As such, it would be anticipated that the pay scale for generalist rangers would be less than that for law enforcement rangers. The answers to questions concerning how this might impact the morale of two ranger classifications working side-by-side with different salaries and retirement benefits or how successful DPR would be at recruiting and retaining generalist rangers at a reduced pay scale are also speculative.
Other unanswered questions:
- Can any park regardless of size afford a reduced law enforcement presence without increasing the threat to public safety and guests within the parks?
- Will a decrease in the number of law enforcement rangers in districts/sectors require an increased reliance on local law enforcement response? To guarantee a local response, will inter-agency contracts be required? If so, how much will that add to the law enforcement budget?
- And what about vice-versa, especially in remote, rural or beach areas? Rangers provide essential services to local law enforcement agencies, including calls for assistance critical to missing persons cases, fleeing suspects and medical emergencies. If ranger positions are supplanted with non-peace officer generalists, will that increase the risk to the public safety in jurisdictions adjacent to parks?
- How will DPR avoid placing generalist rangers in the position of appearing as though they are empowered to take law enforcement action? Will generalist rangers be placed in the predicament where the public expects them to act to prevent serious bodily harm in the absence of an available law enforcement ranger?
- Will the generalist and law enforcement rangers have separate chains of command?
- Will the limited law enforcement duties performed be peace officer rangers further erode recruitment and retention in those classifications because of the inability to perform more diverse nontraditional law enforcement functions?
Potential for Implementation and Timeline
CRB estimates that it would take between 6 and 18 months to get through the administrative and legislative hurdles to implementation which could include:
- An internal analysis by DPR of the current organization structure and the allocation of peace officer and non-peace officer duties.
- A law enforcement needs assessment as is done by the National Parks Service (NPS) every 3 years. An assessment of needs in each park unit would require a vast amount of resources.
- A state by state, regional and NPS comparison of how law enforcement is deployed in their park systems.
- Changing of the job specifications and/or adoption of new specifications for the non-peace officer Park Manager and Generalist Ranger which requires approval by CalHR and the State Personnel Board (SPB).
- Amendment of the Public Resource Code to eliminate the restriction on appointment to peace officers.
- Meet and confer obligations with affected bargaining unit representatives.
CSLEA and RPPOA's Position
Both CSLEA and RPPOA will continue to closely monitor the proposals outlined in the Parks Forward and CRB reports. We will not support any measure which increases the threat to the safety of the public, resource protection or our members. We believe the available statistical data will support a finding that there are increased calls for law enforcement service in parks statewide and replacing law enforcement rangers with non-peace officers will increase the threat to visitors and staff within the park system. We do not believe that credible data exists to support the proposition that the POST certification and training requirements are in any real measure contributing to the problems in hiring and retaining law enforcement rangers. Rather, it is a direct result of failing to increase the salary of the ranger classifications and, beginning in January 2011, eroding the pension benefits for employees hired in to these positions.
CSLEA and RPPOA will make their case before CalHR, the SPB, and the Legislature and will utilize the resources of our leaders and lobbyists to do so.