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Handguns OKd for Rancho Simi Park Rangers : Crime: The three officers may start packing pistols next year. A small survey of visitors reveals opposition.

November 18, 1994|IRA E. STOLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Afraid that criminals from Los Angeles County will spill over into Simi Valley parks, the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District board voted Thursday to arm park rangers with handguns.

By a 3-1 vote the board directed park district staff members to "pursue and develop a program for arming the park rangers."

All three supporters said the district's parks in Simi Valley and Oak Park already attract enough troublemakers that rangers are sometimes put in danger, and they predicted that the situation will only get worse in coming years.

"If we want them to be law enforcement officers and want them to be up with the times, then it's unfair not to arm them," board member Don Funk said.

A second board member, Bonnie Carpenter, said unarmed rangers could be "in grave danger" even now, when they are by themselves in remote areas of the park.

The district's three rangers probably will begin packing pistols next year after the parks agency spends about $7,000 to alter its insurance policy, buy guns and purchase time at firing ranges, officials said.

The rangers, all retired Los Angeles police officers, had asked for guns so they could confront dangerous criminals without having to back down and call police.

Before the board voted Thursday night, Simi Valley resident Carolyn Anderson, whose son was fatally wounded this year in Los Padres National Forest, pleaded with the trustees to crack down on crime in parks.

"Do what you have to do to make our parks safe," she said.

But Jim Meredith, the board member opposing the change, said he had polled 70 park users and found only three who thought it was a good idea to arm rangers.

Meredith has argued that giving guns to rangers might increase the risks of violent confrontations with troublemakers who see the weapons as a challenge.

Meredith also argued that park security problems have been overstated. Last year, there were 45 arrests in district parks; there were 1.2 million visitors.

The issue of arming the rangers dominated the recent park district election. Board member Mark Johnson was ousted in favor of ardent pro-gun candidate Gene Hostetler, a Simi Valley police detective. Hostetler will be sworn in next month.

Johnson, who voted with the majority Thursday, has applied for appointment to the board, replacing a board member who recently resigned. But there are several other applicants, and the board has made no decision.

Some state and national park rangers are armed locally, as are Port Hueneme park rangers, who are part of that city's police department. No other special district, city or county rangers in Ventura County are armed.

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