Editor’s Note: This post is authored by JaiCe Stinton ’18, Aiden O’Brien ’19, and Maria Zumbo ’18
The New York State Legislature has introduced a bill that would increase the number of state park officers at several of the 180 state parks throughout New York. This initiative will greatly reduce the strain on current officers, decrease the response time to emergencies, and reduce crime in our state parks. These improvements would positively impact communities across the state.
It is the duty of New York State to provide for the safety and security in all public places and events. The New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation maintains one of the largest tourism and environmental preservation industries in the state. There are roughly 335,000 acres of publicly accessible land throughout the state with over 62 million visitors in 2017 alone. Our dedicated state parks police force has to handle various issues and accidents, but they are not given the adequate financial and physical resources necessary to adequately serve all these visitors. The number of full time officers has remained static over time, while the number of people visiting the parks has increased every year. There are currently only 253 officers to handle a job that requires over 400 to maintain and provide sufficient security for all our visitors. It is extremely hard for our officers to serve the overwhelming number of visitors to our parks in their current state.
A couple of New York State legislators have seen the negative effects of having a small police force firsthand and introduced the bill to better staff of staff the state park police force. In areas that have large concert venues, such as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), the park police force must shift their numbers to assist the security at the venue. However, last year there was a hiker who was lost at the same time a concert occurred and it took the state park police 30 minutes to respond. This is a serious issue that could cost a lost or injured hiker their lives. Also, on Long Island gangs such as MS-13 utilize vacant state parks as dumping grounds for their victims. If there is an increase in state park police officers protecting visitors and the land, then crimes like these may be thwarted.
The staffing of state parks bill was introduced last budget session in 2016 with the intent to raise the minimum number of state park officers to 385; however, it was not passed. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening this year. Assemblyman Phil Ramos (D) and Senator Richard Gallivan (R) have worked to spread awareness among their colleagues in their respective chambers, but there has been no indication that the members have entertained the bill in meetings.
We should all be able to visit a state park, beach, historical site or campground without worrying for the safety of our families. It is up to us to decide to support our police force and visitors, and renew our commitment to provide a safe and protected trip to any New York State park. If you are someone who visits any one of New York State’s 180 public parks, 35 Historical sites, 67 beaches, 36 swimming pools, 27 marinas, 29 golf courses, 8,355 campsites, and a combined 2,000 miles of trailways we urge you to contact your representatives to urge them to support of A05254/S01383 to protect our public spaces.