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O.C. Park Rangers Given the Authority to Issue Citations for Civil Offenses

September 22, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Orange County park rangers who have complained for years that they felt powerless to enforce park rules won the right Tuesday to issue civil citations.

The Board of Supervisors voted to give the county's 55 rangers enforcement power, saying that the rangers need to be able to write tickets for civil offenses.

In the past, rangers said, some offenders simply laughed at their warnings. Typical offenses include hikers or bikers who trespass in areas that are off-limits and alcohol and dog-leash violations.

"Our rangers need some help. There are people out there who say, 'I don't care. ... What are you going to do about it?' " Supervisor Bill Campbell said.

There are 21 regional and wilderness parks in the county, which attract about 10 million visitors a year. Mike Reeder, a senior park ranger, said he supported allowing the rangers to also write criminal citations, as rangers do in several other California counties.

"It's time for us to rise to the levels of our peers," he said.

The board declined to go that far, noting a Sheriff's Department recommendation that rangers be armed with guns if enforcing criminal laws.

Instead, the rangers will carry pepper spray and their citations will be for infractions punishable by fines but not jail time.

The civil citations carry fines of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second and $300 for a third. Supervisors asked parks officials to produce a written proposal and timeline for the citation program and suggested they consider fines of less than $100 for minor offenses such as dog-leash violations.

Supervisors said they wanted rangers to continue to build a positive relationship with park visitors and use citations only as a last resort.

"Our rangers have a great relationship with the public," Campbell said. "I don't want this to be a fundraiser for Harbor, Beaches and Parks."

Supervisor Chuck Smith said he was also concerned about the public's perception of rangers. "I can't think of any situation where the rangers should be carrying guns, and the same goes for batons," he said.

County parks director Kevin Thomas said the rangers will be careful not to abuse their new power. "It's not a cost-recovery program," he said.

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