SPOKANE, Wash. - The City of Spokane is ramping up its police presence around local parks and pools – except they are not using police officers.
They are using park rangers.
“We saw that there was a greater need for law enforcement-type services in the parks beyond just Riverfront,” said Park Ranger Supervisor, Justin Worthington. “So in collaboration with the Spokane Police Department, we determined there is a real need to transition from just focusing on one, to all of our parks.”
Park rangers operate under a special police commission, granting them the authority to make arrests, ban people from parks, and enforcing curfews.
"We respond to a variety of different things. We try to basically present ourselves as goodwill ambassadors for parks by contacting people if they're asking for directions, provide first aid," Worthington said. "Sometimes we see people using drugs like marijuana, heroin or anything like that. We don't see that very often, but we do encounter that."
So far this year, park rangers arrested more than 90 people. Park rangers have that authority under a special police commission at Spokane Riverfront Park and Manito Park.
"Usually what we're seeing in the parks is people being in the parks after curfew or people drinking alcohol. It's more seldom that we see those more serious sort of violations," he said.
They try not to exercise those powers, according to the City, instead opting to talk out problems.
“A lot of times, it can just be a conversation, and we can reduce or get rid of an issue before anything even happens,” said Worthington.
In one instance, a group of people were attempting to spend the night in the Coeur d’Alene Park gazebo in Browne’s Addition. Rather than a police response, park rangers, including Worthington himself, arrived at the scene. He says that instead of citing the people, he simply had a conversation with them. They were up and out of the park in a few minutes.
“It wasn’t a conversation about taking enforcement, writing tickets, excluding people or anything like that,” Worthington recalled. “It was an explanation of the ordinance, why this has an impact, and what we can do to help them.”
In 2019 alone, park rangers have responded to 5,200 service calls.
"That's every time we have any type of interaction with the public, whether its someone asking for directions, providing first aid. Sometimes those other instances where someone might be misbehaving," Worthington said.
They hope that with the help they provide, the rangers can establish a reputation of being fair, but firm.
"Really, get the community to be aware of us and how we can help people beyond the safety aspect," he said.
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