A campaign to reduce crime in Los Angeles' Griffith Park and other recreational areas in the city has cleared its first hurdle with a City Council committee's approval of a proposal that would nearly double the park ranger staff and allow the new rangers to carry guns.
The council's Recreation, Library and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 2 to 1 in favor of the motion, which has been supported by Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and Jim Hadaway, general manager of the city's Recreation and Parks Department.
The council's Finance Committee will study the measure, which would cost about $500,000 a year, and make a recommendation to the City Council.
If the council approves the plan, the city's park ranger staff would be increased from 22 to 42. The added rangers would receive regular police training and would be given peace officer status. The rangers who now patrol the city's 350 parks only have the authority to issue parking tickets.
Supporters of giving the rangers new powers have cited a 25% increase in the last year in crimes such as robbery, automobile burglary, vandalism and theft of city property in Griffith Park.
City Council members Gilbert Lindsay and Peggy Stevenson voted in favor of the plan, while Councilman Joel Wachs voted against it, saying he opposes the arming of park rangers.
"I have no problem with allocating the money to improve security in the parks, but I'm not in favor of arming people who do not have police experience," Wachs said.
Instead, Wachs said he would prefer that a special unit of police officers be created to patrol city parks.
However, Capt. Bob Taylor, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division, said there would be flaws in Wachs' proposal.
"Griffith Park and other parks are seeing a step-up in crime, and the parks need a permanent presence of someone who would maintain the law," said Taylor, whose division's territory includes Griffith Park. "If we assigned police to the parks, there would be a high probability that the officers would frequently have to leave the parks to handle other more serious calls. We couldn't guarantee they would be in the parks at all times."
Sheldon Jensen, assistant general manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, also strongly supports the move to give rangers more authority to enforce laws, contending that in recent years rangers have "had to wear two hats."
"Because of the situation in the parks, our rangers have now had two functions instead of one," Jensen said. "Besides their regular duties, they have had to try to control crime, and they need as much protection as the city can afford."
Wachs, however, said that the Recreation and Parks Department has given the city its budget priorities for next year and that increasing park security is the 21st item on the list.
"If you need security that badly, why was the plan that low on the list?" Wachs asked.
Jensen said the priority list can be misleading because many of the items high on the list are for further implementation of projects that are already under way.
The campaign to increase park security began about two years ago, when a small group of residents living near Griffith Park complained about crime to police and city officials.
With the help of Stevenson the group drew up the plan now being studied. The Recreation and Parks Department endorsed a similar proposal in 1980 but it was eliminated during budget review hearings later in the year.