- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2007

The lack of federal funding for the U.S. Park Police has jeopardized the agency’s mission and employees, including vehicles too broken and dangerous to drive, officers and supervisors say.

Though no officer has been hurt or killed as a result of the shortfalls, “it is just a matter of time” before such an episode occurs, said Fraternal Order of Police official James Austin.

“While officers are held accountable for their performance, we expect the same accountability be held to those responsible for the deteriorating financial situation,” Mr. Austin, chairman of the union’s Park Police Labor Committee, said in a letter to Chief Dwight E. Pettiford.

Several veterans and supervisors also said the agency is having problems fulfilling its mission, which includes protecting the country’s national treasures and preserving natural resources.

They said during interviews over the past three weeks that the agency needs more employees and money to meet expanded counterterrorism duties. The officers, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, said the agency is about 20 percent understaffed.

“There is a lot of uncertainty among the officers, who know we cannot continue to operate until we get into a better position administratively,” Mr. Austin told The Washington Times.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said Congress should address the issues, not Chief Pettiford.

Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, said she would seek more money for the agency and called the letter “an astonishing story of congressional neglect.”

“Capitol Police has been extravagantly funded since 9/11, [but] Park Police, with far greater territory and responsibility, is barely surviving,” she said.

Lt. Scott Fear, a Park Police spokesman, would not comment on the letter or the problems it references. He said an internal letter from the union to the chief “isn’t something we’re going to play out in the media.”

The agency officers and supervisors also pointed out again that former Chief Teresa C. Chambers warned in December 2003 about the lack of employees and resources. Mrs. Chambers’ bosses at the Interior Department fired her for publicly discussing her concerns.

Some of the agency employees also said Chief Pettiford, who replaced Mrs. Chambers after she was fired in 2004, has not sought the necessary funding for additional employees and other resources, while others blamed the National Park Service, which oversees the Park Police.

The agency has 621 officers working foot, mounted, marine and air patrols. In addition to protecting the Mall, they have primary jurisdiction in Rock Creek and Anacostia parks and along the Baltimore-Washington and George Washington Memorial parkways. They also are responsible for the Statute of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, dozens of D.C., Maryland and Virginia parks, and escorting Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Austin said that while the Park Police has been struggling with personnel, equipment and training issues for years, members of Congress have “made it very clear” the agency is expected to be more accountable for its financial management.

He also said recruits who were given hiring dates last year and instructed to report for duty later were told their jobs were no longer available and that the agency has no plans for new hires this year. He said without an increase in the number of officers, the agency “is going to be hurting” because of pending retirements and the attrition rate.

Mr. Austin also said he expects that few, if any, new vehicles will replace older ones that need frequent and costly repairs.

“I am aware that the force cannot expend funds without approval of the National Park Service … but the men and women of the U.S. Park Police deserve an explanation of how the system failed and when we can anticipate positive changes in the current condition,” he said.

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