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Orange County May Give Its Park Rangers the Power to Issue Citations

A vote by supervisors is expected Sept. 14. Also possible: giving them pepper spray.

August 11, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

In his first year as an Orange County park ranger, Mike Reeder stepped into the path of a mountain biker who was riding unsafely and violating several ordinances at Peters Canyon Regional Park.

The man punched Reeder in the chest, shouted an expletive and kept riding. Unarmed and without the authorization to write a ticket, there was little Reeder could do. He made no effort to catch the offending rider.

"It was frustrating not being able to do the job I was there to do," Reeder said. "I felt helpless."

That was seven years ago. In spite of several attempts to change the policy, Orange County's 55 park rangers still lack the authority to write citations.

They also do not carry handcuffs, pepper spray, batons or any other self-protection.

Soon that may change. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote at its Sept. 14 meeting on a proposal to allow park rangers to issue citations to visitors who violate laws at county parks. The board also is expected to decide whether to arm rangers with pepper spray or other self-protection.

The vote would come 10 years after the county first considered giving rangers the authority to cite violators.

It's a process that was bogged down first by the county's 1994 bankruptcy and again within the bureaucracy of the county parks department, said Supervisor Jim Silva, who's pushing for the policy change.

Last year, the county paid a consultant $18,000 to help study whether county rangers want to write citations and how other county parks in the state operate.

Many other counties allow rangers to write citations, but some do not, said Kevin Thomas, the county parks director.

Silva said he believes it's important to give some additional authority to the rangers.

"You can go to the people who are abusing county parks and warn them, but they'll continue doing it because nothing happens," he said.

"If you issue a citation, they have to go to court and could have to pay a fine. That would put a halt to a lot of vandalism."

Most often, rangers deal with visitors drinking alcohol, allowing dogs to roam off-leash and biking on illegal trails, which poses a threat to wildlife, Reeder said.

Rangers can issue warnings, but without the ability to write tickets, their words often carry little weight, he said.

Some mountain bikers tear down signs advising them to stay off illegal trails, then ride without fear of reprisal. People caught drinking alcohol are told to throw away their booze, Reeder said, but that order is often ignored.

Rangers run into the same offenders repeatedly, Reeder said.

"The warnings fall on deaf ears," he said.

"If you have citations, it acts as a deterrent."

Thomas said the county has considered the policy change off and on for 10 years but is now ready to act.

"I would agree it's taken a long time," he said.

"That's unfortunate. But hopefully the outcome will be worth it."

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