County mulls moving police officers out of parks in favor of rangers

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Park rangers instead of county police might soon be patrolling Allegheny County’s parks.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald met Thursday night with members of the county police rank-and-file to discuss a plan to replace the officers who patrol the county parks with park rangers, according to an administration official.

The county police officers currently assigned to the parks would be redeployed to other areas of the county, the administration official said. There would be no layoffs.

In an interview, Mr. Fitzgerald declined to provide details but said his administration, in discussion with the county police and the parks department, is evaluating how to utilize the county’s resources most efficiently.

The total 2014 budget for the county police force is about $29 million, with 265 funded positions.

The parks division of the county police, with 45 funded positions, costs the county about $5.3 million. Officers primarily patrol North Park and South Park.

Each police officer costs the county about $100,000 a year with salary and benefits. Rangers, who probably would be new employees, would cost less.

Henry Wiehagen, a retired North Braddock police chief who is chairman of the Allegheny County police union, said he opposes the plan.

“It’s nice to cut and save money, but I don’t think you should do it in public safety areas,” he said. He said families feel safer knowing that the police are patrolling.

Park rangers would be “like a security guard” and would not have the power to make arrests, he said.

He worried about response times if an incident happened and the park rangers had to call the local municipal police force.

Right now, the process is “still in the talking stage,” and he said his members would have to decide what they think about it. Some like it while others don’t.

Allegheny County Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville and chairman of council’s public safety committee, said he had not spoken with the county executive about the ranger plan but said he wanted to know more details about what the ranger position would entail.

“My bottom line is, if somebody gets mugged or something, I want to know that the plan is safe and the response time is safe,” he said.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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