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Chief of Park Police fired after airing in-house woes
The chief of the U.S. Park Police was fired yesterday, about seven months after she was suspended for publicly complaining that the department was understaffed and under-funded.
The Interior Department said Teresa Chambers was dismissed after a review of her case by Paul Hoffman, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary.
The group representing Mrs. Chambers in her legal struggle, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), confirmed that she had received an eight-page letter notifying her of the decision.
Mrs. Chambers was meeting with her attorneys yesterday and was not immediately available for comment, a PEER spokesman said.
Interior Department spokeswoman Tina Kreisher did not give specific reasons for the termination, but said Mrs. Chambers was off base with complaints that the department did not receive enough funding.
“There’s been a lot of talk from [former] Chief Chambers about the Park Police budget,” Miss Kreisher said. “I’d like to report that the Park Police operating budget has increased by 39 percent since the Bush administration took office.”
Mrs. Chambers was suspended and placed under a gag order on Dec. 5, a few days after telling various news media that she had been forced to cut back on patrols because her officers were required to guard national monuments. She also said the department had a $12 million budget shortfall at the time and needed $8 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
Two weeks later, the National Park Service moved to fire Mrs. Chambers, charging she broke federal rules against public comment on budget discussions and lobbying. Mrs. Chambers appealed the move to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial agency that makes sure federal workers are protected against abuses by agency management. A ruling was expected sometime this month.
The U.S. Park Police patrol the Mall, parks in the District, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbor, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Presidio, and some scenic parkways in Maryland and Virginia. The force employs nearly 680, but vacancies have left it 15 percent below its authorized strength.
Mrs. Chambers was in charge of negotiations with “Tractor Man” Dwight Watson, the North Carolina tobacco farmer who parked his tractor on the Mall in March 2003 and claimed to have bombs.
The ensuing 47-hour standoff disrupted four consecutive rush hours. Watson surrendered peacefully and no explosives were found.
Mrs. Chambers became the first woman to lead the U.S. Park Police in February 2002, after serving as police chief in Durham, N.C. Before that, she spent 21 years as a police officer in Prince George’s County.
There have been two interim chiefs in Mrs. Chambers’ absence, Ben Holmes, who retired in February, and Dwight Pettiford.
By Tom Fitton
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